CM . . .
. Volume XX Number 31. . . .April 11, 2014
Polly Wants to be a Writer: The Junior Author’s Guide to Writing and Getting Published.
Laura Michelle Thomas.
Delta, BC: Laura Thomas Communications (Distributed by The Ingram Book Co.), 2013.
215 pp., pbk. & eBook, $14.95 (pbk.)
ISBN 978-1-4602-2819-7 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-4602-2820-3 (eBook).
Grades 7-9 / Ages 12-14.
Review by Kim Aippersbach.
When Ms. Whitford was gone, Polly took the muzzle off Scrum. He yawned and stretched his jaw.
“That’s a good dragon,” said Polly as she reached out and scratched his chin for the first time. Having Scrum suddenly felt like having a big, ugly pet. Maybe, just maybe, she could get used to him. As Polly scratched, she could feel Scrum relaxing into her fingers. He lifted his chin higher and started to make a deep, vibrating noise that reminded Polly of a cat’s purr, only it was more musical.
“Ms. Whitford says it doesn’t matter what I write about, as long as I write it well. So I have a new idea for a story—actually it’s an old idea. I’ve never told you about it. Anyway, it’s about a girl who finds a silver bullet that turns her into a creature called a vamperwolf. That’s a half werewolf, have vampire creature.”
Scrum was about to say something, when Polly sensed the oncoming criticisms and stopped scratching. “I don’t care what you think right now. Ms. Whitford says writers don’t need their dragons until they have written the first draft of their story. So all you get to do is listen and nod and tell me how good my story idea is and that I’m a good writer.”
According to the author’s introduction, every writer has a dragon inside: an inner critic, a voice of negativity that will hinder writing a first draft but will be essential to revisions. The story of Polly and her dragon Scrum is intended to demonstrate how to tame this inner critic and use it to become a better writer.
The main character of Polly Wants to Be a Writer is a teenager named Polly who has great ideas for stories but who never finishes writing any of them. One day she discovers a large, smelly dragon in her room, a dragon which eats her laptop and breaks her furniture. Polly goes for help to Ms. Whitford, a writer who visited her school. Ms. Whitford explains the nature of a “literary dragon,” tells Polly she must learn to control Scrum, and gives her some specific assignments to help jumpstart her writing. At first, Polly dislikes Scrum intensely and doesn’t believe she will be able to work with him. She procrastinates regarding her writing assignments and tries to ignore Scrum.
Polly’s mother takes her to a psychiatrist because she thinks Polly is having hallucinations, and Polly ends up at Dr. Mammozarack’s “depression clinic for teen girls”. Ms. Whitford shows up at the clinic and rescues Polly and Scrum because, in fact, Dr. Mammozarack is targeting young writers and breaking their bonds with their dragons so she can use the dragons, herself. Ms. Whitford takes Polly to the Writer’s Guild secret headquarters and tells her to complete another writing assignment. The point of view now shifts to Yulleg, a young famous writer who is using his father’s dragon Felix to write bestselling novels. Yulleg’s publicist turns out to be Polly’s estranged father, Ted, who is, himself, an author. Ms. Whitford and Ted go on a mission to prevent the publication of Yulleg’s latest book which Felix wrote about his long lost dragon love, Quill, and which Ms. Whitford and Ted think might reveal Writer’s Guild secrets but which actually reveals Dr. Mammozarack’s nefarious plot to control all the writing dragons in the world. Polly and Scrum are distracted from Polly’s writing assignments by these activities, and they keep leaving Guild headquarters to find Yulleg or rescue young writers from Dr. Mammozarack’s centre. The point of view shifts between Polly, Ms. Whitford, Ted, and Yulleg to follow their various attempts to stop the printing of Felix’s book and find the truth about Dr. Mammozarack. Polly and Scrum discover Quill in captivity and release her, and Quill helps in the final defeat of Dr. Mammozarack. At some point during these proceedings, Polly finishes Ms. Whitford’s assignments and completes a first draft of a story.
The plot of Polly Wants to Be a Writer is complicated and confusing. Dr. Mammozarack’s nefarious scheme is never completely explained, and Polly’s father’s motivations and allegiances are unclear. Most of the plot has nothing to do with Polly at all; it revolves around old romances and unacknowledged family connections among the adults of the story. The novel is supposed to be about Polly learning to write, but her writing is not in any way connected to the events of the plot—except as something to ignore while she tries to get involved in the spying and rescuing that seems to be the Writing Guild’s focus. The moments of writing instruction are interruptions of the action, and Polly’s attempts to fulfill the assignments are rushed over and not elaborated.
Ms. Whitford’s instructions to Polly are all useful tips for a beginning writer, but they are delivered in stilted dialog where Polly keeps asking just the right questions for Ms. Whitford to deliver more mini-lectures. Thomas’s summary of “The Six-Step Writing Process” at the end of the book is a more effective way to deliver this kind of helpful advice.
The book’s title, Polly Wants to be a Writer: The Junior Authors Guide to Writing and Getting Published, illustrates the work’s major flaw: it wants to be both a novel and a how-to manual, and the two functions don’t work well together. The imaginative plot and exciting action that make a novel interesting are undermined by the clearly didactic purpose of the work. And the clear steps to overcoming writers’ block and getting a first draft written seem intrusive and uninteresting if the reader is intrigued by the plot and just wants to know what happens next.
Polly Wants to Be a Writer might be useful in a creative writing class, but there are better nonfiction books on writing and better fiction books to use as examples. A pre-teen writer may find encouragement in Polly’s story, but Thomas’s description of the writing process is quite prescriptive and may frustrate a young person who might not work that way but is led to believe this is the only way to work.
Recommended with Reservations.
Kim Aippersbach is a free-lance editor and writer and mother of three in Vancouver, BC.
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