My critique group says my MG fiction is preachy. Now what?
First let me say that I love my critique group. I’m not writing about y’all. We’re solid.
Getting productive feedback on your work is a lifeline. It’s critical to have fresh eyes to review your words and point out where things are working, where they can be improved, and what should be thrown out.
Now, unless you’re a pastor, you probably don’t want people to react with “that chapter/section/story is a bit preachy.”
If your first response to this kind of criticism is like mine (i.e., hackles raised and shields up), may I share with you something I’ve learned that might ease the sting?
Many people feel a calling to write for kids because they want to share their love of Christ. As one of my sisters would say, “ain’t no shame in that.” It’s only natural for that love and enthusiasm with sharing the message seep into our writing (okay, maybe for some of us it’s less of a seep and more of a flood).
At the Blue Ridge Christian Writers Conference Children’s workshop, one of the faculty reminded us that our primary target audience is between eight and twelve years old. Our audience is soaked in a learning environment six to eight hours a day, five days a week.
This means they can smell a lesson from 500 yards away. If you come at them with teaching wrapped in a cute main character, they will put your book down.
Like us, kids read fiction to be entertained, escape their troubles, and explore the world. Who can blame them?
Do you have a lesson or a story?
Ask yourself – and honestly answer – if you are trying to impart a lesson or tell a story. Knowing your objective is half the battle. If your heart is telling you to teach children about Christ’s love, as important as that is – it’s not a story. If your heart has named a character who has a unique adventure, you have a story.
If you have a story, go back through your manuscript and find ways to let the story shine. Bring it to life with realistic characters, imperfect allies, obstacles to overcome and plenty of excitement. Doubt that it will be “Christian” enough? Don’t. Because you’re you and you love Christ, your world view will show up in the telling of it, I promise. And you never know how God is going to use your words.
Maybe you feel like you have less of a story and more of a lesson. That’s a great thing to know. If this is the case, writing a nonfiction book may bring you more success. In nonfiction, you still have freedom to use more direct language, cite more Scripture, conduct interviews and collect data that will bring your lesson home in a very real and accessible way for kids. Instead of trying to force a tale around a message, just bring the message.
Most importantly, when you receive feedback that shakes your gut a little bit, know that you’re not alone. We’ve all been there (multiple times, probably) and lived to tell the tale. Use it for good and know your Father sees you and is working for your benefit.
Oh- and if this post comes off a little preachy, know that I hear you and I’m working on it.
Kell McKinney earned a B.A. in journalism from the University of Oklahoma and an M.S. in documentary studies from the University of North Texas. She’s a part-time copywriter, double-time mom and wife, and spends every free minute writing and/or hunting for her car keys. Connect with her on Twitter @Kell_McK or kellmckinney.com.