FRIDAY FEEDBACK – HEATHER GALLAGHER

Heather Gallagher has provided today’s Friday Feedback. This is the beginning of her chapter book.

Rex was sucking the life out of an icy pole in front of the orangutan exhibit.

On the other side of the glass sat Harta – or the orangutan we would later learn was Harta – sucking his thumb. It struck me then that that was kind of weird. Thumb-sucking is one of my little brother’s more embarrassing habits.

‘Hey Ezzie,’ Rex called out to me. ‘Watch this!’

Rex, without taking his eyes off Harta, put a hand up to his head and scratched his own bright orange hair.

Harta lifted his scarily human hand up to his head – and scratched.

Rex, finished his icy pole, put down the stick, smiled and scratched his bum.

Harta, baring his own large teeth, scratched his bum.

Rex – now grinning like a finalist on ‘Australian Idol’ – put his left finger up his nose and began to pick.

Harta extended a hairy red pointer and rammed it up his own nose as if searching for buried treasure.

Heather,

This is really funny and I think kids would love the orangutan mimicking the boy. We get a really good feel for Rex’s sense of humour and this makes him endearing to the reader. His actions are  just the kind of thing a kid would do.

I would probably have liked to see you set the scene a bit more. Some things to think about – things the reader might want to know. Are they at the zoo? Why are they there? Is it someone’s birthday? (this can be a good way of getting age information across) How does your main character feel about being there? You could also take a bit more time to introduce Harta. What is he doing when he first sees Rex? Is he sitting bored in the corner or doing antics of his own? I think there is also room to let the reader know more about Harta in terms of size, age etc if relevant to your story.

I was also interested to know how old Rex was. This kind of information helps ground the reader in the story and relate to your character.

It struck me then

I’m not sure how old Ezzie is, but this sounded quite adult. I don’t think you actually need it. Could Ezzie just say, That was kind of weird?

or the orangutan we would later learn was Harta

I don’t think you need this and it takes the reader out of the story. It’s actually a point of view change. If you want readers to know that you know Harta’s name, you could have one of your characters read it on a name plate on the cage.

Rex, finished his icy pole, put down the stick, smiled and scratched his bum.

Would he perhaps pause for effect here to make sure Ezzie is watching? Also, I’m wondering if he might stuff his stick in his pocket or in the bin (being environmentally friendly).

Rex sounds a bit old to be a thumb sucker. Is this vital to the story? Perhaps the orangutan sucks its thumb like Rex used to.

You may have done this already, but in case you haven’t, the reader would need to know where this is set. Could you relate the mimicking actions to the setting.

Also, pretty soon you are going to need to give the reader an idea of the sort of story this is. A mystery? An adventure? Where is it heading?

As a reader, I’d definitely be interested in reading on, Heather and finding out more about Rex and Harta.

If you’d like to submit your 150 words for Friday Feedback, please email to Dee*at*Deescribe*dot*com*dot*au

Feel free to mention if you have a particular problem or question with the piece you have sent. Can you also please include age of intended readership and approximate word count of intended manuscript and put FRIDAY FEEDBACK in the subject line of your email.

Thanks.

Happy writing:)

Dee

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6 thoughts on “FRIDAY FEEDBACK – HEATHER GALLAGHER

  1. Thanks heaps for your advice Dee. It’s funny – some of the things you recommended I had in an earlier draft but cut out in the interests of trying to get straight into the action with something intriguing, etc. The point-of-view question is an interesting one. I decided that even though this is Rex’s story, I wanted Ezzie to tell it – partly as an age thing – Ezzie is older than Rex but also to enable him to commentate when Rex can’t. (Rex later turns into Harta and vice-versa). I’d be interested in your thoughts on foreshadowing and whether this is a good thing to do when writing for kids or whether it shows your cards too early.

  2. I loved the opening line in this, Heather – and loving the humour you are injecting so early in the piece. As Dee said, I think kids will instantly warm to the story and writing style.

    I also instantly craved knowing how old Rex was, so that could be introduced early on in some way – I know kids like to know the age of characters so they can more readily relate.

    Well done – loving this little tempter!

  3. Hi Heather,

    I’m glad you found my feedback helpful. Getting straight to the action is good, but you have to ground the reader in the story first. They need to know who the characters are and what kind of story this is. I wouldn’t have predicted the identity swap thing at all. So to be honest, I think you definitely need some foreshadowing here. I thought this was going to be a realistic story about a practical joking kind of kid. As a reader, I would have been quite surprised when the identities were swapped. I think you need to hint to the reader right from the start that there’s something not quite ordinary happening here.

    You don’t have to give it all away, but if it’s going to be a fantasy kind of story then the reader needs to know that there are things about your story world that aren’t quite normal. Otherwise, you might miss out on readers who like fantasy and you might disappoint readers who were expecting a realistic story.

    It’s okay for Ezzie to tell Rex’s story, but in that case, the reader needs to get to know Ezzie pretty quickly too. I didn’t know from what you submitted whether Ezzie was a boy or girl. You don’t have to dump this information on the reader, make it part of the story. For example, “When you’re twelve, taking your seven year old brother to the zoo for his birthday can be a real drag…especially when you had plans of your own to meet the guys down the skate park…” See from this short piece you get an idea of where they are, how old they are and the ages of your characters. You can give indications that this world is not normal or that something weird is about to happen by using sounds, smells, visions or that something is different. For example, we hadn’t seen this orangutan before and the way he looked at us was almost human. I got a chill down my spine when I looked into his eyes.

    These are just suggestions, Heather. Your story, up to you how you tell it but I think that grounding the reader in the characters and story early on and foreshadowing will hook them in more.

    Hope you find this helpful.

    Happy writing:)

    Dee

  4. Congratulations on bravely offering a piece for crit. I’d love to dive in and offer some feedback, too. Dee did such a comprehensive job, I’m not sure I can offer much more, but here goes…

    Firstly, orangutangs seem to enjoy acting up for kids at the zoo, so most kids can relate to the opening, it’s a lovely hook. I think the idea of a younger brother and orangutang swapping identities is brilliant. And it had me wondering how long until the sister noticed (younger brothers belong in the zoo).

    What stood out for me was the sister’s reaction about the orangutang’s thumb sucking being “strange”. Orangutangs are so appealing, particularly when they display human-like traits, I would imagine “cute” would be a more likely response, even if she was annoyed when Rex did it. But I’ve not seen one suck its thumb before, so dont take this as more than conjecture.

    Finally, as the mother of an older thumb-sucker (8 yo), I can guarantee that any thumb sucker over 5 will be embarassed at their own habit and will try to hide it from peers/ siblings. The older sister herself might not have any opportunity to be embarassed by it if he’s old enough to be self-conscious about it(she might find it exasperating – public nose picking might be more embarssing to her), but may exploit it a rich vein of teasing material. And if he’s still little, why doe sit emabrass her? I’m wondering if “babyish” may suit.

  5. Thanks for your comments, Jo and for sharing your experiences.

    You make some good points and I think you also highlight the fact that we need to know the ages of the characters.

    Thanks for your feedback.

    Dee:)

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