By Christine Thackeray
I just got back from Cub Scout Day Camp with ten little boys and my teenage son as Den Chief. It's fun to see them so excited to punch holes in paper cans and turn old boxes into totem poles, but the best part of all is usually the skits.
Last year the staff had everyone in stitches. I even dragged my husband out on the last day so he could see them. There were plenty of comical asides and the punchlines were delivered flawlessly. Even the den skits were well done. Well, this year- not so much. In fact they have been awful!
On the way home my boys were trying to figure out why. These were their biggest issues and I think they apply perfectly to novel writing.
1. What's the point-
In two of the skits today the basic premise was never made clear. You could see people running around on stage but you kept scratching your head and asking why? The central conflict needs to be clearly stated in the first few pages.
2. Disconnected Dots-
In this one bubble gum skit a Scouter is chewing gum and sticks it on a tree. Then a person leans on the tree and throws it on the ground. The gum gets stuck to a dog, put on a bench and gets stepped on before someone puts it back on the tree when the original owner comes back and retrieves the gum they thought was there all along. It can be really funny when done well. Unfortunately, today each of the scouts wasn't watching where the last person left the invisible gum. One boy left it on the left of the tree and the next person leaned against the other side and pretended to be stuck so he threw it on the floor. The next girl came out and took the gum off the tree, which was supposed to be on the floor, to throw it on the floor again. At that point I think everyone stopped watching. Inconsistencies in plotline ruin even the best book.
3. Too many words-
In the venue of scout skits where there is no mike and everything is yelled, you don't have the ability to convey deep ideas. You could tell the new cub leaders because they try to do these long involved plays instead of a simple skit with a clear punchline. I endured four of them in the last two days. In writing, know your audience and write to their interest and ability level.
4. A Satisfying Conclusion-
There is a great skit where an evil Medikrin is destroying a town and so the people trap a loon and fill the loon with sugar. The next morning the Medikrin is dead and everyone asks why. The wise man says "Just a LOON full of sugar helps the Medikrin go down." For the majority of boys between 8-11 this has no meaning. If they've seen Mary Poppins once, they're lucky and none remember the song "Just a Spoon full of Sugar." It's not funny.
There's another skit called the candy shop which is real fun. They get people to pretend to be the doors, welcome mat, fan, table, open sign and register at a candy shop. When the first customers come in they ask for candy but are told there isn't chocolate or licorice or gummy worms. Finally they ask "So what do you have?" and the kids answers, "A shop full of suckers." Although the kids love to act out the different parts of the candy shop, they scratch their heads at the punchline. In today's world a sucker is not a lollipop and they are thoroughly confused. In writing a good beginning may sell you first book but its the great conclusion that sells your second and that sells you as a writer.
So happy writing. Why don't you stand up and give yourself a round of applause or do the watermelon cheer?
Sorry, I really need to unwind...