Thank you to all the brave souls who entered this month’s 8 on Eight contest! Opening your work up to feedback takes courage, and we appreciate your enthusiasm. If your name wasn’t drawn from the Triwizard cup this time around, keep an eye out for our next contest window (on May 1st). Below, we’ve posted the first 8 lines from this month’s winner, along with feedback from at least eight of our members. We also encourage our readers to share their (constructive) suggestions and thoughts in the comments section below.
MY MOMS ARE GETTING MARRIED
“Mom and I have important news to share with you,” says Mama, holding Mom’s hand.
“We’re getting married!” Mom says. “At our wedding, we will stand in front of our friends and family and promise to love each other for the rest of our lives,” she explains.
“Really?” I shout, jumping up and down.
“Really!” Mama says. Mom and Mama dance with me and we’re all happy.
Soon after, my moms try on dresses at a big store in the city. I see many different dresses. Short and long, sparkly and plain, white, pink, purple and blue. I ooh and ahh at each one. Mama picks a lavender dress which swishes and swirls as she moves.
Feedback from The Winged Pen:
Jessica V.: Your writing is clean and polished, and the imagery in the last line is lovely; I can totally imagine Mama swishing around the room in her lavender dress! In terms of the overall concept, I worry that the title, combined with the first line, is going to strike agents and editors as too didactic (it’s also hard to start with dialogue). Perhaps look for an opening that captivates us with the wonder and excitement of a wedding and let the fact that it’s her mamas getting married unfold more organically?
Katharine: I’m thrilled to see a picture book with two moms! We definitely need more of those, and I can’t think of one with the moms getting married, so it seems like a good concept. I am not sure this one is starting in the right place, though. The beginning feels a little tell-y instead of hooking me. Like Jessica, I love the image of the dresses, and it might be nice to start there. I also would love to see more of the main character’s thoughts and feelings. Is he or she excited? Worried? Confused? I think any of those emotions would be normal and worthwhile to explore in the book. Best of luck with this!
Michelle: Congrats on coming up with such an important and unique concept! I’m also wondering if you started in the right place. Maybe you could find a way to hook us without starting with dialogue. I love this part: Short and long, sparkly and plain, white, pink, purple and blue. I ooh and ahh at each one. Mama picks a lavender dress which swishes and swirls as she moves. It draws me in to the story. If you started with dress shopping, we would quickly figure out the two moms were getting married instead of telling us straight out. Or you could start out in the store with the child imagining what each mom will look like when she steps out of the dressing room and save the reveal that the two moms are getting married for later. Using a few clever metaphors would be a great way to show us what the child is feeling. Check out this post on writing openings. There are a lot of great links at the end for methods for hooking readers. Good luck!
Kristi: I’m going to have to agree with Michelle and Katharine, I think you can start this at a more exciting place or in a more interesting way. I want to see and experience this with the child. I want to play along and not feel dragged along– that sounds too harsh. I think what would help is talking about rings and dresses and not saying right out: We’re getting married. That said, I can really picture the illustrations in my head, so capitalize on that.
Gabrielle: Great concept, and I do love the detail of your last line, but we need to feel what’s at stake for your MC, even in a PB. I think you could begin with her already knowing her moms are getting married, and letting us know her thoughts and feelings about it. Incorporate small details, and multiple senses, starting with the first line. Paint the scene. Show us how she feels through her actions and what she says, or is afraid to say.
Gita: I love the concept of a PB that features two women getting married! You can make this even more compelling if you grab the reader right away—by revealing more about character and plot.
Character: I don’t yet get a sense of who the main character is. Though the story is “about” two women getting married, you’ve chosen to tell it through the viewpoint of their daughter—a great choice. It’s therefore primarily the little girl’s story. But what is her story? What are her thoughts about what’s happening? Can you infuse her dialogue/thoughts with her personality so the reader can get to know her better? I see that a little bit with the thrill of the pretty dresses but I’d love even more.
Plot: From reading the first eight lines, I’m not sure where the story is going; with a PB, I should already have an inkling. You might think about what is generating tension in the story and make sure you set that up right away. Even in a PB story, a protagonist must face some kind of obstacle, which (we hope!) she eventually overcomes. Reading the opening, I don’t see the tension yet. But the focus on the dresses made me imagine: her mothers get new dresses, but in the flurry of planning, her own dress gets forgotten? Or the only dress that fits her isn’t one she likes? Whatever the girl’s story, you want to get at that tension right in the first eight lines—which I think is what my fellow writers are saying about starting closer to the action or in a different place. It might be useful to go back to a few of your favorite PBs and see how the author uses tension to make the reader turn the first page. Good luck and happy writing!
Rebecca: Congrats on your courage in putting your words out here for feedback and for tackling a tough issue for a young audience! As everyone has said, your description of the dresses in the shop is wonderful and I think the story can could really take off from there, but I wasn’t pulled in as much as I’d like to have been before the big news. There have been a couple suggestions about starting in a different place. I really like the idea of starting with the big news but I’d love more context/setting to be able to really “be there” with our young MC. What if she was at a fancy cupcake shop in the city just around the corner from the dress shop? What if she thought this was a fun outing for cupcakes but is suddenly terrified at the thought of standing up in front of everyone at the wedding? Or is she excited to get to buy a princess dress for the occasion? (Not trying to put words in your mouth…just brainstorming ideas that would have visual and emotional impact!) The MC’s reaction is key because the more we can see of the MC’s frame of mind, the more we will want to go on this journey with her. Good luck!
Halli: Thank you very much for entering the contest and sharing your work. It is a big step. As everyone said, I am happy to see your subject choice and also feel it is long overdue. We have all assumed that the main character is a girl, possibly because of the way she oohs and ahhs over dresses her moms are trying on, and I know pictures will clarify that. I am also in agreement that starting with the dialogue doesn’t feel right. For me it may because it is not the main character speaking at first. A suggestion would be to have the mc drive the dialogue such as asking: “what does getting married mean” or possibly something to bring up how big a deal it is in the world today, and in the world of a PB reader, that two women are getting married. In the eight lines, I’m not sure where your story is going or if you are going to address the challenges same-sex couples face so I don’t want to assume anything. But on that note, I think what I would like to see a little more of in the beginning is the main character driving the story with action (such as the dress shop) and/or dialogue, as well as a clue to what the conflict in the plot will be. Overall, wonderful job!
Karin: I love the subject of your PB! You’ve chosen to write in first person, which is fine but know that most PBs are written in third person as it’s easier for young children to understand all the characters’ perspectives in this POV. Regardless of which POV, we need more conflict. I am sure it comes later but it’s a good idea to set it up earlier to hook the reader. The daughter needs to have a problem and that’s usually created by her not getting something that she wants. Also, it might be stronger if you show us instead of tell us that her moms are getting married. For example, as I don’t know the rest of your story:
Emma stared at the two wedding dresses. One was long and frilly and the other was silky with puffy sleeves.
“So what do you think?” asked Mama.
‘We didn’t want them to be the same,” added Mom.
[This way you’re showing us through action that Emma has two mothers and we are hinting at a wedding. Now, you can insert the conflict through Emma’s reaction to her mothers and the dresses (a metaphor for their wedding) through dialogue or action.]
Good luck! I hope to read the full picture book one day!