Friday, September 2, 2016

My Great and Powerful Comment Box Moment of Oz

A great writer once said, “As writers for children, we have a responsibility to uphold.”

*steps aside as villions claim responsibility for this quote*

But only one said it at a specific conference, and only one said it to me when they critiqued an old sci-fi manuscript of mine. 

Now, this story was my Big #2. Which shall be known hereafter as The One, not to be confused with the actual “#1”-- which was the book of my heart, filled with telling and info dumps galore. *sighs*

No, this was my Big #2.

Which had to be The One, right? The One that’d get me in that contest. Land me that agent.

It wasn’t.

Well, for godsake, it didn’t even have an accurate number. How could it be?

But seriously, all #2 potty jokes aside, this particular comment box on an alien sub-plot got me to thinking...just because it’s made up, does it make it right?

I’m referring to characters doing bad things. Or planning to do bad things. Or even being perceived as something bad.

You see, in this book—on another world—with beings from another time and space—I left some little ones in the care of two teenaged alien beings. 

In my mind, I’d created these mature characters with highly responsible traits and personalities. I didn't think twice about entrusting them with a younger species. I left them with all the food, technology and medical tools, and every supply they'd need for generations to come. They'd all be set for life.

So, my great alien guys were perfectly responsible for these little ones’ upbringing.

But were they?

At that time, I would’ve said sure, why not. Aliens are people too. Sorta. But today, I’d be more...

Curious to your thoughts.

When we create scenarios, even in the wildest of fantasy worlds, there’s still an underlying morality that folds into the story line. Am I right?

So what if Crockafarmers have been shooting little Fiffyfoamers for generations. Who cares if Roaminy Roodles are mean to Clickity Clackers.

But kids will.

And they do.

Hell, I already feel bad for those poor Fiffyfoamers and Clickity Clackers. Don’t you?

Roaminy Roodles have feelings. And so do kids.

This crit was done loooooong ago (Okay, just three years ago, but in Fiffyfoamer years it’s like forever). And this critiquer was a wizard editor. Probably still wears a long divider cape at home. There were so many things to learn from the other comment boxes. One, of course, was that I spelled forrest wrong, but I’ll always do that, so...

But that one particular comment track box about responsibility rang true for me. Even for stories outside of the box. Even in the wildest of worlds, I believe we have to be mindful of how kids could potentially ingest the words and stories we tell. I mean, if someone talks to me in a southern accent, I have to bite my tongue not to talk in a southern accent back.

It’s a real problem...y’all.


See now, if that’s how spongey I am. Imagine a kid?

At the time, I just saw my story as: Made Up, Not a Real World, Not Real People, and Not Real Circumstances. But our characters all become real to our readers. And a story can be received in very real ways. 

Every story I’ve written since has been compassed by this little comment bubble hanging over my head. And I believe it always will. 

This is just one of my personal aha-comment box moments. I’m sure I’ll have more ahead of me. But this one, I’ll never forget. I wonder if another critiquer would’ve spotted that particular subplot and called me out on it? Maybe, maybe not. You never know which comment will hit home or change a writer or their story for the better. For everyone.

Yes, it’s a big subjective world out there. But just ‘cause it’s made up, doesn’t make it right.



...What number was that book?


WendyMcLeodMacKnight said...

I really think this is an important discussion. Often, I start my idea off in terms of the ultimate child reader, but often in the first draft I veer off and always have to pull it back to that vision in revisions. It's a challenge and a privilege, and it sure isn't easy!

Melyssa Mercado said...

So true, Wendy! So true. I find myself writing in mindful POV for all my YA and adult stuff, now, too. Definitely a labor of love! Good to know I'm not alone in this awesome challenge. (-:

Unknown said...

I missed this post somehow, Mel. But I'm here now! It's such an important thing to remember when writing for kids, or anyone really. Thanks for the reminder and your great perspective. :)