"Present the things [your main character] doesn't believe in some chronological order, and show him developing, changing in some way. You can keep the poetic nature of the manuscript, but if you add a plot arch it will be a lot more fun. A lot more meaningful."
To which I replied, "Argh!!!!" Everything he said was missing I thought was already there.
As I saw it, the main character's beliefs were laid out in a chronological order. They did develop and change. He went from believing his brother's tall tales to doubting them, then disbelieving them, then getting even by making his own. That's what made up the plot arch. Ironically, I thought the plot arch was so obvious that I worried it might be too heavy handed. As for the poetic nature of the manuscript, I hadn't intended to write poetry, but the story did follow a metered and rhythmic format. This was built by repeating variations on the boys thought process—thoughts that changed over time.
At any rate, it all seemed obvious to me, but OBVIOUSLY it was not. Not to him, at any rate. And likely not to a potential editor either.
Now, I could dismiss his opinion, but then I'd have to pretend he hasn't published 30+ picture books and doesn't teach a course at a local university on the subject. Besides, I sent him the script because I believed he knew what he was talking about.
And so I was left marooned on Review Lake with a deflated oar. No, really. It was one of those blow up jobbies. I just didn't have the energy to blow it up again. More on that later today.
I became frustrated with his critique because I didn't know how to fix the problem. Now that I've had time to think, though, I have some ideas to fix things. He did say there were some fun aspects to the story. It's not all a loss.
Perhaps illustrations would clarify what is missing. I might be writing as a former illustrator with images conjured in my mind that aren't being communicated with the text. Perhaps he didn't get the story, but more likely my story wasn't as obvious as I thought. Perhaps my concepts are too complex to be simplified into a concise picture book narrative. Perhaps I just need to revise the manuscript again and again and again until I get it right.
One thing has occurred to me because of this incident. Not every successful author is also a successful picture book author. Writing picture books is a specialized skill requiring a succinct brevity of wit and words. I am hardly succinct. I love complexity. It tickles my mind and keeps me entertained, but it might not work very well in a picture book. I plan on writing about this concept another day since it's a new insight I recently gained into my ADHD. It's worth exploring.
So What's Next?
Before inserting illustrator notes to explain things in the manuscript that were left unsaid, I will look the story over and see if there is a clearer way to word it. But even before I do that, I will set the story aside for another week and finish polishing up that magazine article that I had hoped to submit last week. I could use an accomplishment in an area I already have skills in before tackling an area I'm still working to develop.
Follow me on Twitter for my ADHD escapades at @SplinteredMind or my novel writing project over at @DouglasCootey. And if you're a glutton for punishment you can friend me on Facebook as well.