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Kim Tomsic

Thursday, February 23, 2023

Sensitivity Readers and Knitting

When you write outside of your lived experience, a sensitivity reader is someone who helps make sure that your writing delivers accurate and authentic representation rather than perpetuating a stale, harmful, or even wrong stereotype. 

The best presentation I've attended on this subject was given by the Newbery Award-Winning author Linda Sue Park. Park says that it's hard to accurately write a character from a different culture if you've never sat at their kitchen table. She used knitting to demonstrate her point.

Park has been a life-long knitter. She showed the audience an image of the proper way to hold knitting needles—ends down, tips up. Then she showed us images featuring illustrations of characters knitting but holding the needles the wrong way (ends up, tips down). Clearly, the illustrator of the inaccurate images isn't a knitter. In fact, they've probably never held knitting needles. It's not their lived experience.

💡This was a lightbulb moment for me. When Park gave this simplified example, I thought

of all the times I've seen purported yoga instructors (aka actors) on television holding a pose the wrong way. Knitting needles and yoga poses are minor mistakes, but Park's point demonstrates how easy it can be to get the details wrong. Sometimes, inaccurate details harm the suspension of disbelief, and sometimes they are culturally wrong and/or offensive errors.

In my upcoming 2024 novel, The Truth About 5th Grade (HarperCollins, summer 2024) co-written with Mark Parisi,  I've written a scene where a supporting character celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month. I am not Latinx, so I hired sensitivity readers to take a look at my manuscript. I also leaned into my critique partners who are Latinx. The sensitivity readers and critique partners were able to share valuable insights on ideas and issues that I would have never thought of on my own (e.g., adding a cumbia playlist).  

Here is a fantastic four-minute video (4:21) that explains why a sensitivity reader can be a great idea if you are writing outside of your lived experience.  

If you have time for an 18-minute video, this TED Talk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie called “The Danger of a Single Story” is excellent! 

Thursday, February 9, 2023

Your Story's Interstitials

If you've ever hear me toss about a fancy-pants word, I probably learned the vocab from the brilliant Elana K. Arnold. She's so smart! In fact, if you're intersted in taking a master class, you should check out her
revision season

Onward to interstitials - one of the many words Elana taught me.

Interstitials sounds highfalutin, but we’re simply talking about the connective tissue within your manuscript. It’s what ties the story and the character’s choices together in a meaningful way (plot!). 

Why are interstitials important?

With interstitials in place, you have an interwoven story that is knitted together by character choices🤩👍.  Without interstitials, you have a bunch of stuff happening that's without meaningful connections.  Perhaps you'll want to add "check interstitials" to your revision checklist.

More on Why:

You probably want to write compelling manuscripts and/or guide your critique partners to develop page-turning, satisfying stories.  To do so means that things don't just “happen” to a character. If a story is going to captivate readers, the protagonist can’t be a passenger

flowing along in the current of life. The character must make choices that drive the plot. And each choice has a consequence that causes the character to make the next choice and then the next and so on.

Benefits: With solid interstitials/connective tissue, you’ll see how:

  • the character drives the plot
  • the story draws the reader in deeper
  • the readers comes to trust that everything matters and therefore will want to know what happens next!

I created this chart below so you can see how the interstitials track in Beauty and the Beast.

Belle's father Maurice heads to the fair but gets lost and is chased by wolves therefore, he illegally takes refuge in the Beast's castle
because of that: the Beast holds Maurice prisoner.
Because Maurice is missing,  Belle goes looking for her father BUT the Beast won't let Maurice go, THEREFORE Belle tells the beast that she will be the prisoner in her father's stead. (THEREFORE she stays)
The Beast  is a jerk  THEREFORE Belle won't have dinner with him
and BECAUSE OF THAT the cups, saucers, teapots etc. server her dinner (kindly singing Be Our Guest)
and BECAUSE OF THAT Belle is comfortable and THEREFORE moves about the castle 
and THEREFORE discovers the enchanted rose
and because of that she THEREFORE gets a glimpse of the beast's true and good self.

As you know, the story goes on from there.

Notice that there are compelling reasons (character motivations) for Belle's choices, and each choice/action catapults into the next choice. Remove the choices and the plot unravels or hinges too much on coincidence. If a moment is followed by an "and then" the plot can stall or fall into a pattern of stuff happening to the character rather than the character making action choices (i.e. the action of Belle looking for her father, rather than Belle coincidentally meeting the Beast).  

Want more? Check out what the makers of South Park have to say about "because of this then that" in this two minute video:

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