Hannah Mills won second place in the 2012 OYAN novel contest. As one of three finalists, Hannah received detailed critiques of her novel, Hosanna House, from the professional judges.
We asked her to share about her experience. But first, a synopsis of her entry:
Raine Jones is trapped. Sworn to secrecy, she can’t explain her fear of Thomas, and without that explanation, her parents just don’t understand. Sent to Hosanna House for correction, Raine’s entrapment increases. She’s thrown into a world she didn’t want, one she didn’t realize existed. Hosanna House and what she left behind are forcing her hand. Will Hosanna House break her or will she find a way to break free?
Opening the detailed manuscript critiques for Hosanna House this past January was both exciting and scary. Exciting because I was finally getting my hands on them, and professional authors had actually commented on my work. Scary because, well, professional authors had actually commented on my work.
Yeah. Just slightly nerve-wracking. Regardless, I hugged the fat booklets and dove into them with happy trepidation.
The judges were very kind, balancing their constructive criticism with encouragement, highlighting what they thought I had done well. After reading through the comments I felt both exhausted and elated. The amount of work I faced, implementing their suggestions, drained me before I even started. Yet the encouragement gave me a high that nearly outweighed my apprehension at the thought of an overhaul.
I’m still working on the manuscript. At the moment, I am in the middle of a second intense edit.
Have the professional critiques helped?
Goodness, yes. If you get a professional’s help in going over your novel, treasure it.
Cherish every word, even those that aren’t applicable to where you want to take your story. The judges who gave me feedback on Hosanna House pointed out, affirmed, or reaffirmed some major problems with the manuscript and characters. For one, lack of inter-character conflict between my main character and the other teenage girls she lives with throughout the majority of the novel. So what am I doing? Going through the story and adding just that. Spats, tension, close friendships and snitches. Cliques. Throw ten females into close proximity and a dysfunctional situation and things get just a little messy.
Another point the judges made was that some of my characters needed to be fleshed out. Thanks to this feedback, I’m noodling out backstories and finding out why these book people act the way they do. It’s all starting to make sense now. I’ve been quite pleased about the moments of revelation I have experienced about my characters—many of which are now incorporated into the manuscript. The things I am finding out about my characters make sense in the context of their actions, and that’s amazing.
One difficulty with processing these critiques is finding the balance between some of the comments and what I know to be true due to my research for the story. There is a line separating what I know is right for the story, and what others see as illogical. One judge said the central character in Hosanne House accepts abuse too easily. And yes, under many circumstances, that would be true. My personal observations and research into Raine’s type of background and lifestyle, however, yield different conclusions. Developing this insight in the reader is part of my vision for Hosanna House.
But, very importantly, there were also some things the judges liked. They found my main character very real and three-dimensional, and they enjoyed the way I incorporated art into the manuscript.
The overall experience has been fantastically helpful. To date, the major changes I can attribute to the judges are: more inter-character conflict, the rounding out of several characters, several people being cut entirely, my central character taking more of an active role, the reworking of a major turning point, and many more art/artist references to flesh out the descriptions.
This is the tip of the proverbial iceberg, really. I’ve barely made a dent in the incredibly detailed comment sheets. I keep returning to them, and each time, I tack another item onto my to-edit list. To me this is more valuable than a cash prize would have been. I’m excited to see where, with hard work and the help of the judges, Hosanna House will end up.
A homeschool graduate, Hannah Mills joined OYAN four years ago and since then has written five novels, including Hosanna House. Her goals are to study graphic design and tell compelling, well-written fiction containing Truth. When she isn’t writing, Hannah enjoys spending time with friends and family, networking with other writers, creating some form of art, or curling up with a good book and a cup of coffee.
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