WRITERLY WEDNESDAY: When Your Book is Having an Identity Crisis

Did you play the game Guess Who? when you were a kid? There were these pictures of people’s faces and each player had a set of multiple faces on their board. Each player would ask questions to describe the character they have in front of them. All questions needed to be answered with yes or no. Were they brunette? Did they have freckles? Did they have brown eyes? Players would continue to ask these questions until they could make an educated guess if they think they knew the exact picture the other player had. Seemed like a simple premise.

What about when you’re writing a story? Do you know what kind of story you’re writing? Do you know the audience you’re writing it for? What happens when you’re confronted with such questions that challenge the identity of the story you thought you knew?

I mean, come on. It’s your story. It started as an idea in your head and blossomed into what you hope is a beautifully crafted work of art.

What happens when you think you know what you know but discover you’re not sure if what you know is what the reader needs to know, you know? Ain’t so simple now, eh?

This is the current challenge I’m facing with the revised draft of a manuscript (formerly known as the MG Fantasy) that I so brazenly believed I could whip into shape in a couple of weeks to shove off for querying.

Well, shove off is right. Right off a cliff. I’m certainly grateful I asked the questions and had those questions give me pause. It wouldn’t do anyone any good if I were to toss this manuscript into the sea, as is, and hope a literary agent somewhere in the big blue yonder would bite.

I’ve certainly made progress in this work in progress, but it begs the question, how do I proceed with what I’ve learned? Well, there are many avenues to explore, as I touched upon in my Camp NaNo Week Two Roundup.

I’ve since connected with MG/YA author, Michelle Schusterman, who had a similar issue with her manuscript when she ran it by a critique partner. What she believed to be an MG book was actually YA and thus, the author had to rewrite the entire story with this in mind.

So what is the difference between MG and YA?

In her presentation on “The Magic of Middle Grade” on reedsy, Schusterman was told this distinction between the two categories: “it isn’t about the physical age of your protagonist. It’s about their emotional age. A Middle Grade protagonist is discovering how they fit into the world. A Young Adult protagonist is discovering how they can change and affect the world.” 

You can watch the reedsy video here and check out Michelle’s YouTube channel here to learn more about the writing life of an author from draft to publication.

When it came to my WIP, the various feedback received included:

  • MG stories shouldn’t have adult POVs because children don’t want to read what the adults are doing/thinking. They want the kids to be the focus of the story.
  • You should only have X amount of POV shifts, and only written in a particular sequence.
  • Make sure you have recent comps when querying.

Then, I also heard the following:

  • Why wouldn’t you want adult POVs in the story? MG kids are the perfect age where they eavesdrop on what the adults are talking about, especially if they try to keep the kids out of the conversation.
  • The POV character should have a character arc and stakes that move the story forward. You can have over two POVCs, but they need to deserve their chapter. Don’t just give them one because you like the character.
  • Recent comps are nice when querying, even if you do a combo with a show or film. However, they’re not a deal breaker. A literary agent is interested in a strong query and synopsis that appeals to them.

I can take any, all, or none of the feedback shared. The goal would be to take these elements and analyze how they would best serve my story. Right now, I’m leaning towards MG Urban Fantasy because I feel that the MC’s age works in how I want to tell the story. I have considered experimenting with scenes and aging the MC. This could serve as a workaround if I were to change the POV to a single character (his) and not include some adult POVs that were necessary in my original draft because they involved those adults in scenes needed to move the plot forward.

What I have, at the moment, is a draft that has a mix of POV shifts. Some, I agree, can merge into other existing POV chapters and admittedly, I thought it would interest the reader to have scenes from those characters’ perspectives. However, if they’re only going to have one or two chapters in an entire book, then it’s unnecessary for them to take the reins of a chapter. Other than that, there’s no particular sequence of who’s POV comes next. Each POV follows the organic progression of the story.

While it’s a great compliment to be told I’m a visual writer, it also worked against me, in this case, because I wrote this cinematically. In a movie, you can easily switch to a scene that doesn’t have the MC (who is a child) and the story still makes sense. However, in literature, there are a lot more conventions to keep track of to ensure I immerse the reader in a solid story.

All this is before I’ve even begun working in the possible Asian Folklore into the narrative. I just might table that for another story idea and focus on polishing this draft even further. Maybe when it’s gone through more beta reads, other writers will tell me if that other layer is even necessary for this story.

For now the revising continues. No one ever said writing was easy, but so far, it definitely hasn’t been boring either. We write on!

Stay creative, stay weird, be kind to yourself and others.

Until next time,

T out.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s