Why Critiques Matter: And What I Learned from the ‘Slush’

book-bible-page-prayer-159510.jpeg

I recently had the opportunity to review more than a hundred stories in a short space of time–all from writers seeking feedback. By the time I was done, I felt like I’d had a master class on writing—I learned as much from the stories that needed work as I did from the ones that were ready. There really is no substitute for critiquing—both the giving and receiving of it.

If you belong to a group such as SCBWI or 12×12, take advantage of the critique forums. Read as many stories in a row (and the feedback) as possible—it’s like a mini slush pile. You’ll learn buckets just reading stories in all sorts of stages. And when you’re ready, return that blessing by critiquing and adding your own stories.

I remember feeling overwhelmed as a newbie to comment on the stories of other writers. I also remember feeling petrified to allow others to see my work, but my writing didn’t progress until I sought those critiques.

Continue reading

Concept will Make or Break your Story: Interview with Author Tara Lazar

taraflowerAfter a case of mistaken identity (Tara Luebbe’s post got credited to Tara Lazar), I asked Tara Lazar if she would answer some questions about ‘concept.’ Tara is the author of The Monstore, Normal Norman, Little Red Gliding Hood, I Thought This Was A Bear Book, 7 Ate 9, and Way Past Bedtime. She’s a regular speaker at SCBWI events, a co-chair of the Rutgers University Council on Children’s Literature Conference, and founder of Storystorm. She’s well-equipped to tackle this confusing topic. Thank you, Tara!

Define concept. How is it different from an idea? How is it different from a plot? For example, what’s the concept, idea, and plot of say Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus? What is ‘high concept?’

An idea is something quick and a bit vague. Non-specific. It lacks details. Before I wrote 7 Ate 9, I had the idea to write about a ‘popular schoolyard joke.’ Once I had that initial idea, I fleshed it out to a concept, to write about the riddle ‘Why is six afraid of seven?.’ Finally, the story’s premise or plot is the backstory of the joke itself—can Private ‘I’ help 6 figure out if his days are numbered? 

7 Ate 9‘s premise is ‘high concept,’ meaning you can boil the essence of the story down to a sentence or two–but not just any sentence. Many stories can be explained that quickly. To be ‘high concept’, the premise has to be unique and make immediate, head-smacking sense. You’ve never seen the concept before but it seems like you should have! People can instantly envision how things might play out. They may even say, ‘That’s genius! Why didn’t I think of that?!’ 

An idea for Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus might be to write a story from an unusual, uncommon point of view. (But honestly, I have no idea what Mo WIllems was thinking, LOL, other than he was thinking genius.) The concept might be to have the book character ask the child reader permission to do something outrageous, with the child getting to act like an adult and say ‘no,’ turning the tables on the usual child role. The plot is to have the pigeon ask the reader permission to drive a bus.

So, if I got this right, let’s say the concept for They All Saw a Cat is something like, “A cat is viewed in a different way depending on which creature sees him.” Would that be high concept? And is it safe to say that the concept is the bones and plot is the flesh? Continue reading