I admit it.
Revision is my least favorite part of the writing process. I prefer to remain in the delicious euphoria of having written the perfect first draft. Can’t I dwell there just a moment longer before I am whisked away into reality?
Thankfully, my critique group is adept at handling the delusional temper tantrum of a 44-year-old writer. They appeal to my sensibility and love for words well-written. They pry the manuscript from my clenched fist, take up their pencils, and kill my little darlings. This is all in the name of good literature, of course, and I am better for it.
Nevertheless, after months of revisions and blinding attention to each word and detail, I am left emotionally detached from the story and the characters I once loved. The euphoria is long forgotten and I tire of a story read too often. Divorce is imminent.
At this point of the process, I have two choices. I can succumb to temptation of the garbage can or I can breathe new life into the manuscript. Because I am as stubborn as I am ideological, I choose the latter and who better to breathe in new life than children?
STORYTELLING AS A VIABLE REVISION TOOL
In the business world, it is unthinkable to introduce a new product or service without market testing and research. Movies, toys, cereal, technology, and thousands of other products are tested by those who represent the intended recipient. Children’s books, however, do not follow this format. Although the intended audience is the child, their opinions are not typically sought after during the writing or publishing process.
After years of teaching, writing, and storytelling, I have come to deeply value the opinions of children. They are painfully honest in terms of likes and dislikes in story and intuitively understand what makes a story magical.
TIPS FOR ORAL STORYTELLING
- Find your age-appropriate audience. Read to your children, nieces, nephews, and grandchildren. Befriend the local librarian and volunteer during story hour. Adopt a public school, daycare, or after-school program and serve as their resident storyteller.
- Understand that storytelling is a performing art. It is a skill that gets better with practice. Watch youtube videos of storytellers. Google “storytelling” for comprehensive “how-to” guides. Practice. Start with a published book you know well.
- Prepare your manuscript. Pre-published picture book writers must alter their manuscript to help children visualize the story. Add details about the setting, character, and plot that would normally belong to the illustrator. Appeal to the senses as you introduce the characters and set the scene.
- Add props and costumes where appropriate. A few select props or costume pieces (scarf, hat) can powerfully illustrate your story. Elaborate costumes or handling too many props will only serve as a distraction. If possible, draw simple pictures on a whiteboard to give the illusion of setting.
- Memorize as much of the story as possible. Don’t read the story, tell the story. It is not necessary to memorize the manuscript word for word as the students are not critiquing grammar, stylistic devices, or punctuation.
- Become a “Storyteller”. A storyteller serves as an additional character to the story: the Narrator. Use facial expressions and hand gestures. Use different voices for characters. Be purposeful in pacing, pauses, volume, and emphasis to effectively increase tension and bring a satisfying resolution. Observe the listener’s responses and adjust accordingly.
- Engage the audience. Encourage students to participate in story, as appropriate. Students may participate as actors or join the storyteller in repetitive or rhythmic lines.
- Talk about the story afterwards. Ask questions to determine comprehension and fondness of the story. If you explain you are revising your work and want to make it better, children are more than happy to oblige with honest answers and plentiful suggestions. Did you like the book? Why or why not? Was it interesting? What was your favorite part? Was there anything you didn’t like? Have you ever experienced anything like our character did? What does this story remind you of? What happened in the beginning, middle, and end of the story? Can you imagine this story in a book? What would the illustrations look like? What does the main character look like to you?
USING THE STORYTELLING EXPERIENCE TO INFORM YOUR WRITING
Ask yourself the following questions to determine the effectiveness of your story.
- What was the physical response of the children?
- What parts were they most engaged?
- Were there any parts they appeared distracted?
- Did the children “oooh”, “ahhhh”, gasp, and laugh in all the right places?
- Did they lean in to listen and watch you with wide eyes?
- Did the children seem to like the story?
- What were their favorite parts of the story?
- Were there any parts they didn’t like?
Response to Character
- Did the children identify with the actions and feelings of the main character?
- Did they empathize with the character’s struggle?
- Did they express relief or joy when the crisis was resolved?
- Did the children relate stories of similar experiences after the storytelling?
Understanding of Setting
- Could the children explain the setting if asked?
- How was the pacing?
- Were there any parts that felt too fast or went to slow?
- Did anticipation build to keep the children engaged?
- Did the children have a physical/emotional response to the climax and resolution of the story?
- Did the students express confusion at any point?
- How did the students respond to the conclusion of the story? Spontaneous clapping? Silence? Confusion if it was the end? A request to tell it again?
- How did you feel about your manuscript before the storytelling experience?
- How do you feel about your manuscript afterwards?
- What went well?
- Is there anything you would do differently (re: storytelling) next time?
- Is there anything about your manuscript you plan to change now?
- What was your favorite part of the storytelling experience?
You are more than a writer. You are a storyteller. Dust off your pre-published manuscripts and put them in front of children. The experience will not only inform your writing, it will breathe new life into your story. More importantly, it will breathe new life into you.
This article was originally published as a ReviMo (Meg Miller’s “Revise More Manuscripts”) guest post here.
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