make changes for clarity, writing for clarity, children's book editing

‘Animal Cracker Circus’ – Editing Example – Making Changes For Clarity

This is another manuscript critique/edit I did for a children’s book. Take note of where I suggested the author make changes for CLARITY. <– one of the biggest issues writers face.

*This order was first filled in 2015*

Thank you for ordering my manuscript critique service. I will give you my impressions as a first time reader, as well as, offer comments for improvement and/or clarification. My words will always be in pink. Please note any deletions against the original. Let’s get started…

THE ANIMAL CRACKER CIRCUS

Ok… so far I like this title. It sounds fun already.

Maxwell sat in his usual spot along the busy sidewalk.

“Would you like to buy a daisy?” he asked a man in a fancy suit.

The man ignored Maxwell and quickly walked away.

Why do I even try? he thought. No one ever wants to buy my pretty flowers.

With a heavy sigh and only a few coins jingling in his pocket, Maxwell started the long walk back to his orphanage. But soon, a gathering crowd caught his eye. He raced across the street to see what was going on. Once he got through the crowd, he gaped at the colorful poster in front of him.

The circus is coming to town!

Maxwell had always dreamed of running away to join the circus. He raced to the orphanage to pack his things!

Now, duffel in hand, he followed crowds of excited people until he saw a tent so towering tall that it touched the clouds.

OK… Wow. So far so good.  

You’ve already given us a lot of information about Maxwell and set up the challenges and drama. Choosing an orphan who lives in an orphanage, who wants to run away with the circus is today, in modern times… is fresh.

It actually reminds me of an old classic like Charles Dickens… which I love. I love old fairytales…

Maxwell walked to the ticket booth, dug in his pocket for his flower-selling money, and bought a ticket.

Then he raced to get the perfect seat in the front row.

“Welcome to the circus, ladies and gents, boys and girls! Get ready for the greatest show on Earth!” the ringmaster announced.

Maxwell laughed as clowns raced around doing silly tricks. The elephants followed, marching in a line, as the trapeze artists flew through the air. Even though the lion’s roar made Maxwell tremble. He enjoyed watching them the most!

Ok… I’d love to see more detailed descriptions and specifics…

About both the circus and Maxwell and remember to always make changes for clarity in your writing.

For example, you could something like ***Maxwell laughed as fifteen clowns squished themselves into a tiny rainbow colored car. Indian elephants followed in a circle, every long nosed trunk holding the tail in front. Trapeze artists swung from bar to bar and somersaulted in the air above the crowd. Maxwell loved the lions the most. When they roared his insides trembled like Sunday night rice pudding at the orphanage! Both the roar and the pudding left him in awe, for very different reasons.***

OK…. do you see what I’ve done above? The information is the same it’s just a little more specific and I’ve made changes for clarity. It helps a reader visualize it better.

Another thing I’d like to see is more description of Maxwell himself. Please don’t rely on the pictures.

Pictures only Backup the story they don’t tell it.

Maxwell watched the entire show without blinking once! It was better than he ever imagined!

At the end, he followed a group of clowns behind the tent.

While Maxwell looked at the giraffes, someone tapped him on the shoulder. He spun around to discover the ringmaster!

“Are you lost?” he asked.

“No sir, I have come to join your circus,” the boy said bravely.

“Are you a clown? A trapeze artist? Or an animal trainer?” the ringmaster asked.

“No, but I am good at taking care of animals. Just ask my stuffed lion Theodore!” Maxwell said as he pulled his favorite stuffed animal from his bag.

“Won’t your family miss you?” the ringmaster asked.

“I don’t have a family,” he said with a frown.

The ringmaster thought for a minute. “Well then, I will make you a deal. You can come help me with the animals and I will help you find a family. Deal?” he asked as he held out his hand.

Maxwell shook the ringmaster’s hand. “Deal,” he agreed.

OK… hang on… after a great start this has taken a somewhat predictable and slightly confusing turn. Why would the ringmaster tap Maxwell on the shoulder while he looked at the giraffes and ask if he was lost? Looking at giraffes at the circus wouldn’t be a particularly unusual thing.

You hadn’t mentioned that he was in a cordoned off area. It seems out of place that the ringmaster would ask him if he was lost. It seems more fitting that Maxwell would be proactive and approach the ringmaster looking to join the circus. That’s how you set it up until this point.

Maxwell seems like an industrious kid….

Which again, makes it a bit strange that he says he takes care of animals and sites a “stuffed” lion. Why wouldn’t he say he takes care of 20 stray cats in the neighborhood? Maybe they follow him around looking for food and water because they know he’ll come through.

He could talk about how they rub up against his legs and nuzzle his face and try to snuggle up in his coat… or whatever. There are a lot of ways for an orphan to take care of real animals to prove to a ringmaster he could join the circus… even if it’s a lie. Right?

If he’s been raised in an orphanage he’s probably used to talking his way in to and out of many situations.

Next, it’s odd that the ringmaster asks if Maxwell’s family will miss him if he runs away with the circus. It just doesn’t seem like a natural progression for how you’ve set up this character and the scene. The ringmaster makes a “deal” with Maxwell saying he’ll find him a family if he looks after the animals. Huh?

Maxwell never says anything about wanting a family. He wants to join the circus. Why would the ringmaster assume Maxwell wants a family if he hasn’t said that? It’s important to make any changes for clarity in your writing.

Besides, circuses are made up of misfits… the circus IS their family.

Stick with your original idea of an orphan who wants to join the circus and make changes for clarity. Your first instinct is a very good one.

“Now let’s introduce you to the animals and find a place for you to sleep,” the ringmaster said with a smile.

Maxwell spent many months traveling by train with the famous circus. He loved and cared for the animals every day, and they loved him back.

He learned to be brave when he gave the mighty lion, Rex, his favorite meal: a whole pepperoni pizza!

Maxwell also learned to be patient when, Betsy, the juggling bear, asked him for endless back scratches.

He learned to be fearless when he climbed great heights to admire the stars with Gilbert, the tallest giraffe in the world!

And even though the elephants had mighty strength, Maxwell cherished their gentle hugs filled with love. OK… waaaay too many animals and non-specific relationships with each of them. It reads a little like a laundry list of things he does with each animal.

Keeping it focused would make it stronger and making changes for clarity will help your reader engages.

Since it’s been established he loves lions why not give us more info on his relationship with them. Maybe he feeds the pepperoni pizza to them one slice at a time… or maybe he trained them to do that?

Maybe before they just grabbed the pizza, box and all, and started tearing into it each time he brought them some. .. or whatever. The point is to focus and get specific and detailed. It makes the story stronger.

At the end of each day when the chores were done, Maxwell climbed into the caboose to his soft, warm bed. But the clowns kept him up past his bedtime, telling jokes and laughing until the sun shone its early light. Maxwell climbed into the caboose of what? You’re assuming everyone knows what a caboose is and why a bunch of clowns would have access to one.

Maxwell thought he would live with the circus forever. Then one day, the ringmaster called him after the show, “Maxwell, I have a special surprise for you! This is my good friend, Henry, and his wife, Ann. They would like to be your new parents!” – What? That comes out of the blue? They agreed to be his parents without ever meeting him before? That seems odd. Besides, we’d rather see Maxwell at the circus. You’ve made such an interesting character here.

Don’t ruin it by thinking you have to make it more “normal.”

Also, we really need detailed descriptions of Maxwell. Please do not assume the pictures will fill this in because they won’t. The reader needs the words, the description, so they can conjure up what Maxwell looks like in their minds and not just look at the pictures. The text Must Match the pictures in a children’s book – otherwise it gets confusing.

Maxwell smiled at the thought of having parents. But his smile turned to a frown because he would have to leave his circus life.

“What’s the matter?” the ringmaster asked when he saw Maxwell’s smile fade.

“I will miss all my animal friends,” he explained.

The ringmaster thought for a moment, then he was struck with a fantastic idea.

With a flick of a wrist he pulled a small box from the sleeve of his cloak and handed it to Maxwell.

The box looked just like the train’s caboose. He opened it up and found little crackers in the shape of all his animal friends. Maxwell picked up a lion and held it in the palm of his hand. The cracker came to life and gave a gigantic roar. He held up the elephant and it gave his thumb a big hug.

“In this tiny box, you will find a little piece of your circus family. Each one will remind you of all the things that you learned. They will help you grow up to become a great man,” the ringmaster explained as he gave Maxwell a hug goodbye.

Maxwell held the box of animal crackers tightly as he left the circus with his new family.

OK… after a very promising beginning, this ending, in my opinion, is somewhat disappointing.

I would suggest making changes for clarity and understanding a priority.

It also doesn’t fit the title at all. The crackers coming to life comes out of the blue and doesn’t make sense within the context of the story you’ve told here.

Ultimately, this is your story, your world, your rules. The ONLY obligation you have to your reader is to make them believe. That’s it.

The trouble with this story is that you’ve started out with a fringe type of character and then gone kind of ‘mainstream’ with it… meaning you gave him a family.

Yet, you set it up so that Maxwell’s ambitions lay with working and traveling with the circus.

By your own words, you gave us an outsider; a character that was an orphan with big dreams of being a circus performer. He made his own money selling flowers on the street.

Then he made the immediate decision to pack his bags and use his own money to buy a ticket to the circus in the hopes of running away with them that DAY!

And he did. Maxwell did all that. What a fantastic premise! I really loved it.

Then… it was if something in your thinking forced you to suddenly consider convention. You gave him a family. The tough part is… it wasn’t even Maxwell’s idea. It was the ringmaster’s.

You gave us this sprightly, independent boy who we want to cheer for. We want to see him live this unconventional and amazing life with the circus. Then Maxwell ends up having an average life. Even though that’s not what he wanted.

Ultimately, this is your story and you can do whatever you want.

However, I see a lot of children’s book manuscripts that have little imagination in them or intensity or danger.

Think of JK Rowling and what she did with Harry Potter. From the first book to the last she gave us a young boy who’s very life was on the line every single day… and we cheered for more.

I encourage you to trust your obviously feisty instincts to lead you (and the reader) down a more intense and surprising story path. I can’t wait to read the revision. All the best. Renee the Writer at the Nexus. 


Thank you for reading.

Wishing you much imagination…

 

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