Notebooks are great for recording ideas and research, writing first drafts of poems and scenes, for sketches and doodles. But there comes a time in the life of a big writing project when an author needs to get organized. That's when I go for the binder.
When Amy asked me to put together a post about constructing THE LAST FIFTH GRADE OF EMERSON ELEMENTARY, I knew that the centerpiece of the post would be my big, giant binder of revisions. However, my novel in verse started small -- as a page of scribbled notes (and one important doodle) on the back of a writing conference handout. Here is the story, from scribbled notes to my new book.
Click any photo to enlarge.
I read SPOON RIVER ANTHOLOGY during my first year of teaching high school English. The class was “Literature About Society.” I loved the layers of this verse novel, published in 1915. Each poetic monologue adds to the nuanced view the reader has of a small town outside of Chicago.
… my son’s fifth grade year. I was active at his school and knew his friends, his teacher, and observed many little details about their class.
They were obsessed with the WARRIORS series. They made little origami boxes out of Post-it notes and kept their erasers in them. Their teacher, Mr. Schoenhut, shook hands as the children walked into the classroom each day. (BTW: Robbie is in the red and white stripes.)
Initial Book Ideas
Jason Chen's Bio-Sheet
When I received feedback, readers liked the voices but didn’t understand what this was. It wasn’t a novel yet.
Over several years, I developed the characters. Above you can see a bio-sheet for one student: Jason Chen. It lists his character arc, what happens to him in each quarter of the book, facts about his family, who his friends are, what activities he likes. I have a sheet like this for every character.
Early Character Seating Chart
One of the ways I kept track of the voices was by making seating charts. This is an early one. Some of these characters were cut from the book.
Giant Draft Binder
Working on revisions with my editor meant cutting two more voices and overhauling the book again.
Above you can see the giant binder where I kept drafts of all of the poems. Each tab represents one character. Every time I worked on a major revision, I pulled the book apart and focused on one voice at a time, so that each character’s voice sounded consistent and true to him or her. Then I reconstructed the order of the poems.
Despite cutting two voices, the book grew to 180 poems during this final phase.
Almost eight years later… THE LAST FIFTH GRADE OF EMERSON ELEMENTARY made its debut. It was a team effort, with lots of help from my agent, Stephen Barbara, my editor, Wendy Lamb, and the team at Random House Children’s Books.
Laura Shovan is former editor for LITTLE PATUXENT REVIEW and editor of two poetry anthologies. Her chapbook, MOUNTAIN, LOG, SALT AND STONE, won the inaugural Harriss Poetry Prize. Laura works with children as a poet-in-the-schools and was the 2015-2016 Howard County Poetry and Literary Society's writer in residence. THE LAST FIFTH GRADE OF EMERSON ELEMENTARY is her debut novel-in-verse for children (Wendy Lamb Books/Random House).
Visit Laura Online Here:
PDF of LAST FIFTH GRADE Educators' Guide
Laura has generously offered to send a signed copy of THE LAST FIFTH GRADE OF EMERSON ELEMENTARY to someone who comments on this post. Please leave a comment, including a way of contacting you should you win, by Sunday, May 22, to be entered into the drawing.
Please know that Sharing Our Notebooks welcomes all kinds of notebook keepers - of any age and interest - to open up their pages and share their process. At the present time, I am accepting all notebook entries and am especially hoping to receive some entries from boys and men who keep any kind of notebooks. If you are interested in writing in this space, please contact me, Amy, directly.
Please share a comment below if you wish.