Workshopping a YA short story

I had another short story reviewed in fiction workshop last night and the results were mixed. The story is meant to be the opening tale in a young adult (YA) short story collection narrated by a thirteen-year-old boy about his family, his small Minnesota town, and his observations of the ridiculous world around him. That last bit, the observational nature of the story, held much of the workshop’s focus in terms of what was working or in this case may have issues.

The narrator, Evan, is highly observational – he can really read people and understands where they’re coming from. He’s smart, smarter than a lot of the adults (many teenagers think they’re smarter than the adults they know but in Evan’s case, he actually is), and often lets their bumbling play out all in the name of satire. We discussed how this plays out – does it detract from his simple goals and conflicts? Does it ring true? And of course, who is this story for?

A majority of the conversation revolved around YA as a genre, particularly around the audience and what entices a ten-year-old boy to read a book. I know it’s the kind of book I was looking for at age ten, when I was into novels like To Kill a Mockingbird, Shogun, and work by Nathan Benchley as opposed to sports stories by Will Weaver and Chris Crutcher or full-length books by Jack London (I dug his short stories, like “To Build a Fire” at that age, though). What I was looking for and what young boys today are looking for may not be matching up 100%.

Yet for as many story notes that I received and will take under consideration in subsequent drafts, there are a few I think will get thrown out the window. I think notes I received on the story’s focus and weight will serve me well during revision, but notes I received on Evan’s observational tendencies and ability to read people and whether that rings true really don’t interest me. And they don’t have to -that’s the beauty of workshop. Take what works for you and run with it. Leave the rest, so long as you’re open to its potential.

When it came time for me to ask my peers questions, I only had one – what was funny and worked and what was clearly supposed to be funny and didn’t work? I got feedback on this and appreciated hearing what people had to say. I’m trying as hard as possible to not let anything superfluous to the story at-hand weasel its way into a story just for the sake of the gag, and it looks like I didn’t avoid that trap entirely, this time around. I especially want to look at how crowds are handled for comedic effect. I’m reading The Legend of Bagger Vance by Steven Pressfield these days and am enjoying how Pressfield handles the gallery around the golfers both as a character and as satire.

When it comes to the humor aspect of the story, I fully admit I’m far too concerned with only one aspect of the story, and that’s not setting other aspects of the story up for success. That said, I think many young writers do that to some degree, it just so happens my way of doing this is by focusing on the comedy aspect of the story over everything else. This makes the comedy distracting instead of an augmentation.

I’ll keep writing the stories in this collection, that I know. I have six finished stories (which all need another draft and a polish), one halfway done, and a few down the pipe, mostly in outline / note form. I had thoughts of this being my thesis instead of the screenplay I’m currently working on, but the screenplay has too much potential to sit on a shelf for now.

I doubt I’ll turn in another story told by Evan for this fiction workshop, however, as I don’t want notes to repeat themselves and I want to explore another story in a completely different genre. We turn in our next stories on April 8, and I’m guessing my piece will be workshopped on April 22. I’ll keep you posted, dear reader.

-nm

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