Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Pluto isn't a planet and WriteOnCon changed my novel's first pages.

So I had a great experience at WriteOnCon this week. (WriteOnCon is an online conference for children's book writers, for those not in the know.) At first I wasn't sure what I could get out of an online conference, but it turns out the answer is a lot!

The livechats and vlogs were all fascinating, but I personally got the most out of the forums. That's where I was able to post my query letter and first five pages of my novel and get them critiqued by random (awesome) strangers.

After a day of review by others, something was clear to me: my opening 2 1/2 pages needed to be rewritten. Almost entirely. I was shocked. Shocked, because I had worked my novel to perfection months earlier. It was the best I could write it. And before that, I had worked it to perfection last year. Again, to the best I could write it. And the year before last year, I had done the same thing.

Huh. Noticing a trend, here.

Could it be that the quality of my novel decays over time as it sits on my hard drive? I think it's great, and then a couple months later it's gotten all gross and soggy, with mold spores galore?

Or...perhaps I've just become a better writer over time. Perhaps as I learn more and apply that knowledge, it forces changes onto things I thought were pretty set as they were.


As a scientist and a fiction writer, I can't help but notice things those two professions have in common. By spending time studying and experimenting, we grow in our knowledge, whether scientific or literary.

Pluto was "demoted" because we learned more about its part of space. Turns out, it's just one of over 200 icy objects orbiting the sun out past Neptune (known as the "Kuiper Belt"). Since it hasn't turned all those things into its moons, it hasn't successfully cleared out its orbit neat and tidy like a planet should. Planets must have enough gravity to boss around anything and everything in their particular orbit around the sun.

Pluto doesn't do that. We didn't know that before 2005, because we didn't know all those other tiny icy things existed. We just plain didn't see them before then.

Whoops. Well, at least Pluto is finally grouped where it should be! Congratulations on finding your true family, Pluto!

Likewise, my first few pages of my novel were scrutinized closely by myself and my critique group over and over. They changed many times, but finally settled out into awesomeness...

But that was back in 2011. Back before I learned how to see the "tiny icy things". Back before I knew what I know now.

So it was time to make changes. I realized that this week and worked tirelessly to revise my first few pages. At first, I hated the changes. I resisted. It wasn't how it used to be. It wasn't the opening I had memorized from reading it out loud to myself on repeat so many times. This is what I like to refer to as my "PLUTO IS STILL A PLANET YOU GUYS. STOP BEING MEAN TO PLUTO. GOSH." mentality.

It's a silly mentality. Once I set my stubbornness aside, I was able to spend two straight days crafting a wonderful new opening. An opening that demonstrated my protagonist's character and conflict neatly and clearly. An opening that fits with how the rest of my entire novel reads.

Pluto found it's rightful category in space, and my book just found it's new rightful opening.

Thank you, WriteOnCon.

So what does the future hold? Will my first pages stay the same forever? Almost certainly not, no. Will Pluto remain categorized as a Dwarf Planet? Honestly, probably not. We'll change that around as the need for new categories emerges in the future.

Science and writing are both about adaptability. When you learn something new, you apply it to the old and change it. Update it. Help it make more sense.

Maybe that's why I love them both so much. They've taught me the beauty of change. 


  1. I think Pluto will always be a tiny planet to me... Just the way I was taught in school.

    However, knowing that he is with his icy friends is comforting. Perhaps someday I will evolve, acknowledge, and accept his non-planet-ness.

  2. Greetings!

    I'm hopping over from GUTGAA and wanted to start visiting some blogs early! Nice to meet have a lovely blog!

    Donna L Martin

  3. Love the metaphor of demoting Pluto and demoting our query-ready WIP.