Archive for writing critique group

Building the lie

Posted in All posts, On writing with tags , , , on August 31, 2007 by Trina

While many people are having cookouts and spending time with family on Monday, I will be “building the lie.” I’ll be cementing the final bricks in the fantasy world that I’ve created in THE MAGIC QUILT. What fun it is to make fantastic and terrifying events happen. Yet, there is a cost in reality and logic. I can make the Great Wizard Cerulean’s eyes shine with blue light. He can pop in and out of time at will. But I have to explain where he gets this wonderful power.

In writing fantasy, the writer must create a fantasy world (the lie) and then make readers believe the lie is logical and real (the truth). See Writing fantasy: the truth inside the lie. In THE MAGIC QUILT, I have made time travel, morphing into animals, appearing and disappearing and being invisible routine parts of day-to-day life.

Any child who has participated in the fantasy world of children’s books and films, where superheroes exist, a man in a red suit drives flying reindeer, noble lions rule, and kids go to wizard academies, believes the lie. But beyond that, in children’s private imaginary worlds, they can be princes and princesses, plastic figures can come to life and entire armies may do battle on their bedroom floors — all in their imaginations.

It follows then, that it should not be difficult to convince young adult readers that an evil wizard can spew deadly smoke from his eyes or that Katharine can fly?

“Children’s fantasy demands the strictest logic, consistency, and attention to detail. … It is no wonder that the greatest children’s fantasists—Carroll, Lewis, Tolkien—had day jobs in the driest reaches of logic and philology.” From: The Real Reason Children Love Fantasy

My attention to detail is what I hope will make Boston of 1775 real to young adults reading THE MAGIC QUILT. In 1775, everything in the room I write in—the electric lights and the computer, the bottled water I drink, and the climate controlled air conditioning —was as imaginary then, as fantastic, as Narnia or Hogwarts are today. So I hope the mix of magic and the setting in the past will be believable.

In the first chapter where the evil wizard Dr. Ziegawart is introduced, DR. ZIEGAWART IS IN, my writing critique group found several areas that needed to be reworked for logic and consistency. I was tempted simply to hit the delete key because I didn’t want to put forth the effort and energy needed for the corrections. See Motivating the cognitive miser. But after some elbow grease, I think the chapter is now both stronger and more believable. I often find that the hardest scenes to write are usually the ones that I am most happy with.

The chapter opens with Dr. Ziegawart in the form of a cockroach in Katharine’s school cafeteria.
A large roach, as long as a tube of Chap Stick, he clung to a trashcan by the hooks on his six legs, unnoticed by the rowdy students eating lunch in the cafeteria. None of the teachers (who were all imbeciles) or the cafeteria staff (who were about as intelligent as slugs) saw the cockroach clinging to the trashcan, waving its antennae in constant search of a change in air that could mean danger to a small insect.

Following are problems with the logic of the fantasy of DR. ZIEGAWART IS IN and my solutions:
When Dr. Ziegawart morphed into his true form, no one noticed him. I let him be noticed.
Dr. Ziegawart sat down hard on a cafeteria bench that was too small for his large frame, nearly sliding to the floor. “Newts eyes,” he cursed, remembering that transmutations always drained his power.

A cafeteria worker approached him and said in a raspy voice “You, there. You do not have a pass.” With gloved fingers, she pushed her hair net back on her sweaty forehead, spreading something that looked like gravy across her face. “What are you doing here sir?”

The smell of body odor overpowered him. Dr. Ziegawart shivered in revulsion looking at the cafeteria worker’s double chin. “I’m a child molester, just hanging around watching my next victim.” He winked, watching her eyes get round in shock. Before she could react, he touched the silver locket hanging around his neck and …

Why doesn’t Katharine see Dr. Ziegawart when he transmutates from a cockroach to his true form? I let her notice him.
Heartened that Katharine was white-faced and trembling like a leaf in the wind, Dr. Ziegawart was confident that he looked every bit the part of the evil wizard that he was.

Katharine doesn’t seem scared enough when she meets Dr. Ziegawart. I added some physical reactions and thoughts throughout the section.
Unable to open her eyes, surrounded by darkness, Katharine’s stomach churned, threatening to send its contents up. She fought the nausea. Chocolaty laughter floated toward her, wrapping her abdomen in a sick vise. The ugly wizard pointed his gnarled finger at her in the blackness.

Instantly a heavy weight pressed down on her chest. Fear prickled in her throat. She couldn’t catch her breath. Hot … she was too hot. A trickle of sweat ran down her neck, but still, she couldn’t force her heavy eyes open.

Katharine felt a gust of wind. With great effort, she opened her eyes. Sara Revere stood before her, wind blowing from her fingertips. She didn’t understand what was happening. Chills shook her. Her teeth chattered. She was too … too cold. This is what it felt like to die. The thought sent icy fingers of dread to her heart. Lindsey would be helpless without her … Her heart squeezed out fear in little pulses that tightened her throat and throbbed in her temples. Dr. Ziegawart would find her again.

How did the evil roaches get in refrigerator to deposit the poison in the hamburger? Solution: Dr. Ziegawart held the refrigerator door open.
Last night at precisely midnight, one hundred of Dr. Ziegawart’s followers in the form of cockroaches sneaked into the school cafeteria’s refrigerator while he held the door open for them. Dr. Ziegawart had given each roach a poison pill that it shredded with its mouthparts. Using its salivary glands each roach had then moistened the powder with its saliva and swallowed it. The poison mixed in each roach’s small stomach where digestive enzymes turned it into toxic roach scat. If anyone had looked in the refrigerator during the night, they would have seen a carpet of brown roaches fanning their wings and depositing poison scat in the raw hamburger.

Katharine was a messy eater in the original version, which didn’t fit her character. I changed the scene so that her friend Brittney is the messy one.
Dr. Ziegawart watched in satisfaction as Katharine bit into her hamburger. Out of the corner of his eye, the roach saw hefty Brittney squeeze three packs of ketchup on her burger and take a huge bite, cheese and ketchup running down her fingers. Her manners were utterly revolting. It would serve the slob right when she died of poison.

Brittney had not suffered any effects from the poison, simply because she was a character that I added into the scene after it was originally written. I poisoned her.
And as an added bonus, the portly girl wizard that had befriended Katharine sat unmoving. Brittney was surely dead …

Why aren’t other students poisoned? This was corrected with one sentence of dialogue.
“Of course only wizards are susceptible to the poison,” Sara said.

Wouldn’t students notice and remember? Again corrected by one sentence of dialogue.
“I will cast a memory removal spell over this room. Anyone who was in this cafeteria today who is not a wizard will have no memory of the events that transpired here.”

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History amended: Introducing Katharine Taylor

Posted in All posts, On writing with tags , , , , , on May 25, 2007 by Trina

Let me introduce you to THE MAGIC QUILT, a historical fantasy for young adults that is set in 1775 Colonial America. The novel is a historical fiction story about the time before the Revolutionary War, but more importantly it is also a fantasy that I believe will capture adolescent minds.

Brief summary:
Katharine Taylor has never transmutated into an animal, a dragon or a mountain lion. She has never traveled to the past through her magic quilt, nor faced armies of insects and the evil wizard Dr. Ziegawart. All Katharine knows is an unhappy life with an alcoholic mother. But all that is about to change when she learns that she is a wizard and travels through time portals in her magic quilt to a turbulent time in Boston just before the Revolutionary War. Caught up in the dramatic events that pit the King’s soldiers against their own people, Katharine finds in her new friends the strength to face her destiny.

I have researched 1775 Boston so much, the world of 1775 seems as real to me as this time and place. As I mentioned in the last entry, this is my first attempt at writing a novel and I probably shouldn’t have started with a historical fantasy. I didn’t realize when I started it the amount of historical reasearch I’d have to do. After all, science is my field, not history.

I’ve spent several months correcting the historical portions of the novel. I’m finally done with that, whew. But the trickledown of minor changes in the history affected the plot so that I had to go back and rewrite about half of the novel.

My writing critique group has just reviewed one of the central chapters to the book, “The Midnight Ride,” and the last historical chapter. Katharine accompanies him on his famous midnight ride. As always happens with critique groups. You walk away with insights and sometimes more revisions. One of the women in my writing group wondered how the men of 1775 would react with Katharine accompanying Paul Revere and suggested that Katharine disguise herself as a boy – now why didn’t I think of that. The section starts with Katharine as a cat and Paul Revere as a dog. Another member said she kept waiting for Katharine and Paul Revere to change back into animals and she thought it would be more fun for kids to read with another scene with Katharine and Paul Revere as cat and dog.

So, as always after attending my writing critique group, I’ve got some revising to do. My goal is to finish editing “The Midnight Ride” over the long weekend — I’ve taken Tuesday off work —and then write the ending of the book, which has been hanging over my head for months. I wrote an ending that I thought was pretty good, with flying dragons and a battle with the evil Dr. Ziegawart, but Katharine didn’t play a large enough role in the end, so I’ve got to revisit it.