Tuesday, June 19, 2012

A Better Critique Story

After posting about the nightmare impromptu critique of my first attempt at writing and illustrating picture books (you can read it here), I thought I'd share another critique story ... one that was more positive.

A few years ago, I attended my first national SCBWI conference in L.A. If you are interested in writing or illustrating for children, I cannot stress enough that it would be well worth it to save your pennies and go to a national conference. They are incredible, and for me, life changing.

Anyway, I'd signed up to have my manuscript critiqued. It was the story that eventually became Puzzled by Pink, but in the beginning stages of the book, the story was only about this little girl:

Her name was Zelda (she's now called Izzy). She was a Wednesday Addams kind of girl who loved all things creepy and goth, and she lived with her grandmother. The whole story centered around this creepy tea party that she was creating for her best friend (who turned out to be invisible).

For my critique, I landed the writing teacher Anastasia Suen. She's brilliant, teaches creative writing, and has written about a bazillion children's books as well as a book on writing for children called Picture Writing.

She looked at my manuscript and we talked through it. She suggested that it could be a cumulative story like The Napping House or Chicka Chicka Boom Boom where everything builds up and then falls apart. "You could have Zelda gather up everything for this party and then it could all come crashing down or something," she said. Then she looked from the manuscript to the sketch of my main character, leaned forward, and said, "But you really don't have a conflict here. It's just not interesting enough ... I like your main character, though ... Tell me, what's the worst thing that could happen to this little girl?"

I sat up and immediately responded, "Something PINK!"

Her eyes lit up. "That's it," she said. "There's your story. Let's talk it through ..."

And we did.

It still took many, many revisions to get my book in the kind of shape that it needed to be, and I still had some learning to do about illustrating a children's book. But that critique? It set me on FIRE!!!


P.S. I'm traveling this weekend, and I'd love to see some of you if I'm hitting your town!

Friday afternoon at 3:30: Black Forest Books and Toys in Charlotte, North Carolina
Saturday afternoon at 1:00: Fox Tales in Woodstock, Georgia
Sunday afternoon at 2:00: City Lights Bookstore in Sylva, North Carolina
Monday morning at 10:30: Blue Ridge Books in Waynesville, North Carolina


  1. It's amazing what a good critique can do. I hope one of these years I can make it SCBWI LA conf.

  2. I agree with Rena, a good/constructive critique can make you a better writer, far sooner than a critical one.

  3. Much better story :) I like the name Zelda - maybe she'll end up in another book. And that is some kind of tour you've got going there! Congrats! :)

  4. A. Suen is awesome. I took her pb intensive class. Can't wait to read your book!

  5. Wow - loved the story of your story! Just put Picture Writing on hold too. Hope my penny jar fills faster!

  6. Great second story--though I love that first critique story with all my heart.

    Something PINK indeed!

    Have fun on your visits.


  7. I took Anastasia's online picture book intensive course a few years ago. She is amazing & taught me so much -- the nuts & bolts on through to all types a genres etc... I can't stress how helpful Anastasia's class has been for me. You're so lucky to have met her in person, Sarah. Thanks for sharing!

  8. You have a fabulous blog! I’m an author and illustrator and I made some awards to give fellow bloggers whose sites I enjoy. I want to award you with one of my homemade awards: the Powerful Woman Writer Award. There are no pass along requirements. This is just to reward you for all the hard work you do!

    Go to http://astorybookworld.blogspot.com/p/awards.html and pick up your award.

  9. Love this. So cool to hear how Izzy came to be.

  10. Thank heaven for fire setting critiques. ;)

    Have fun on your travels! I wish you were in my neck of the woods!


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