Lauren Bjorkman Debuts with MY INVENTED LIFE
Introduced first in 2007, debut children’s authors have formed a cooperative effort to market their books. Last year, I featured many of the Class of 2k8 on Revision Notes, as they told the stories of how 2k8 Novels Were Revised.
Today, I’m glad to continue the 2k9 Series of revision stories.
Class of 2k9 with Lauren Bjorkman.
Critique: Noose or Lifeline? OR SOMEONE thinks I should change my story. Should I?
The Three Year Novel. My Invented Life is the second novel I both started and finished. At the time, my critique group consisted of four talented writers that I trusted. The first draft took me a year to complete, and the revisions another two.
Here are three examples of how my critique partners helped me in the early stages:
- Strengthen Shakespearean ties. One critique partner commented that my main plot about concealed identities and deception mirrored a Shakespeare comedy. After re-reading several Shakespeare plays, and contemplating this parallel, I changed my main character, Roz, into a theater geek, and set much of the action during rehearsals for As You Like It.
- Include action scenes. Another critique partner, a screenwriter, noticed that I used too many dinner table scenes to show family interactions. Low energy settings are the death knell of movie scripts. She gave me a few ideas on how to change this. In the end, I used one of her suggestions, a miniature golf course, for my opening scene. What an enormous improvement.
- Exaggerated character toned down, but not all the way. But sometimes critique must be considered and then rejected. One of my critique partners thought Roz was too shrill. I stewed for a few days before asking him to clarify. He gave me examples. From them, I figured out that he didn’t like the way Roz exaggerated her feelings. After much consideration, I left in many of these moments because they fit with Roz’s character. But I took some out, and toned some down.
- Give character a redeeming quality. Something an editor recommended at conference helped me with this. She advised us to study our main character’s first ten actions in the story. Was she whiny and self-absorbed, or otherwise annoying at the beginning? The reader could forgive some flaws if the character had a redeeming quality—say, bravery or thoughtfulness.
- Character becomes slightly more introspective. A later critique partner felt that Roz was not introspective enough. That had been my intention, so I chose not to make a big change in my novel. But I did allow myself to loosen up a little, and let Roz reflect more. I believe this made the story more compelling.
None of this magic is possible in the wrong critique group. One writer I know mentioned that every time his critique group met, he felt like hanging himself afterwards. Fortunately, he left the group before anything bad happened. And even with an awesome group, it’s important to sift through all the comments, and decide which are valid for you, and which don’t work for you.
After several revisions of My Invented Life, I showed it to a trusted friend. She loved it, but felt the story lacked gravitas. She believed that I had held back. This was true to some extent. Because of her feedback, I changed a more light-hearted storyline into a suicide attempt.
Critique by Agent
Then, I started submitting my novel to agents. It soon caught one’s attention. He liked my hook and loved the first three chapters. But when I sent him the full manuscript, he decided to pass. After I recovered my balance, I asked him why. He gave me specific feedback, and offered to look at my story again if I rewrote it. His comments resonated with me, so I decided to follow them:
- Skip the tragedy. GLBT teens need upbeat books to read.
This had been my original idea! It was freeing to go back to it. I took it as a green light to up the level of humor.
- Streamline the subplots and characters.
I enjoy complicated and twisted subplots. It’s a weakness of mine. So I followed this advice to some extent, but not fully.
- Focus the story on the main characters, and include more rehearsal scenes.
This made perfect sense to me.
Revisions are NEVER Wasted
The revision took almost a year to complete. When I finished, I sent it to the agent. He chose not to represent me. Still, the time spent revising was not wasted. I wrote a better novel because of his comments. By returning to my first vision for the story, I recaptured the spark and the passion.
With the help of yet another critique partner, I completed one last revision. She made sure that Roz acted herself in every scene. A few months later, I found an amazing agent, who found me an equally amazing editor. The rest is history. My Invented Life will be in bookstores and libraries this today!
Lauren Bjorkman: http://www.laurenbjorkman.com/