So my 12 year-old nephew read the still-in-progress Christmas Carol story in a single sitting. Well, actually in two, as he took a break when we left to go to the movies in the afternoon. In any case, he finished it. Then, with my heart in my throat and a great deal of apprehension I asked him what he thought and he said ...
Phew! I could breath again. :) :)
We were all standing in the kitchen, surrounding him: me, my wife, and his parents; and we all stared at him, each one asking more questions and drilling the poor child. I was mostly relieved and let the others asked the questions for me. I didn't want to seem too pushy, so I let them be it instead.
Anyway, here are some constructive comments he offered in response to the heavy-handed interview -- all of which of exceedingly important value to me:
- His favorite part was when Carol found all the candy in the Candy Cove.
- He suggested that I give names to some of the other background characters, like the many random elves that have dialogue or take some action in the opening chapters of the story.
- His main criticism was that the story seemed much too heavy with complex words. I mentioned that I don't mind leaving a few (kids will do well to expand their vocabulary), but will definitely revise it if there are too many. He responded that there are too many.
- I mentioned that I will make illustrations of certain passages, and he requested specifically one for the candy hoard in the Candy Cove.
- I asked him if he could follow the story: "yes."
- I asked him if the plot made sense: "yes."
- I asked him if the structure of the story, its sequence of events and chapter organization made sense and were easy to follow: "yes."
- My wife asked if the characters were interesting: "oh yes!"
- My wife asked about Carol's character, if it was too ham-fisted either too superhumanly lucky, brave, strong, resourceful; or too lame, cowardly, stupid, or silly. He said she was "normal, but good normal. Just right."
- My wife also asked if he was able to follow the geography of the story, where each room and tunnel was located in space, in relation to each other; he said, "yes."
- Asked what he thought of the Ghost of Christmas Presents, he said, "he was very good."
- I asked him if my Santa Claus dialogue sounded like he would expect Santa Claus to talk, and he said "yes, very well."
- I asked him what he thought of the side character Finnley Elf, the cartographer who made the map; his eyes lit up and he said, "that was good!"
- When I mentioned that perhaps the Finnley Elf story could form part of a sequel book, he got very excited and said, "oh yes!" and added, "also about the Ghost, on Halloween or something like that!"
- When asked if he would imagine this book targeted at other 12 to 14 year-old children like himself, he hesitated a little, then said, " hmm ... maybe 7 to 9 year-old (as long as you clean up some of the complex words)."
- He got excited when I showed him I had a map of the caverns, and he started asking all sorts of questions about where some scenes took place. He was able to figure out the rest.
- At one point, my wife asked what did he think about the part when Carol gets so frightened and frustrated that she breaks down and cries, if it was too over-the-top; and he said, "let me review it quickly," and he knew just where to go, and went straight to the page where it happened!
- He then said about that part, "it was fine, and fits her."
So there. Christmas Carol is now "wife-tested, nephew-approved," and it survived a great round of critique. My nephew promised now to go back to the manuscript and highlight any complex words and other parts that could use editing and to write down comments on the margins for improvements and suggestions.
When pressed a little about the intended audience, he said he imagined older kids enjoying the story like he did, but would probably not pick it up out of the blue based solely on the title and theme. That perhaps if it gets published and buzz builds up around it, then they would try it and discover they like it. He suggested that he and others like him, typically choose books based either on an intrinsic topic of their interest, or on their covers; and he assumes that a cover for this title may not be that attractive to them based solely on its initial impression.
Overall, all wonderful feedback. Now I can't wait to finish it!
That's it for now. See ya'!