Wednesday, October 21, 2020

From Research to Revision, Ick! Part 6

On Wednesdays this fall, I’m sharing the process of creating my recently-published book Ick! Delightfully Disgusting Animals Dinners, Dwellings, and Defensesstep-by-step (To learn about the whole process in one sitting or to share an age-appropriate version with your students, check out this new resource on my website.)

Last week I started to discuss the drafting process by sharing a technique that nonfiction writers can use to find a focus. You can scroll down and read that post. 

Today, I’ll pick up where I left off.

Once I found a focus and did some additional research to gather more specific information about Lepidodexia bufonivora, the flesh fly larvae that live inside and feed on toads, I started thinking about creative ways to share this information with my readers. I went back to my notebook and made a few more notes:
First, I realized that I might be able to infuse humor into my writing by incorporating the word “croak,” which has a double meaning. Then I noticed the words “the end” and thought that perhaps I could use a narrative writing style.

As I continued brainstorming, I started to make personal connections:

The idea of sharing the information as a story made me think about helping my niece write a fractured fairytale for school. Maybe I could write a sort of twisted tale about the flesh fly.

As I re-read my notes, the word “surprised” made me think of the party I had recently planned for my husband. Maybe the surprising nature of the fly-toad relationship should be the central idea of the piece.

Because I’d come up with two different ways to approach the text, and I liked them both, I decided to create two different versions and then figure out which one I liked better. 

Version 1: A Toad-al Surprise
Think you know what happens when a fly and a toad cross paths? Then get ready for a BIG surprise! 

When a female flesh fly encounters a harlequin toad, she doesn’t become lunch. Instead, she darts down and deposits her newly-hatched maggots on the toad’s skin.

What happens next? The white, wormy youngsters get to work, burrowing into the toad’s body. Then the maggots devour their victim from the inside out. 

That’s right. In this scenario, it’s the toad that croaks.

Version 2: The Fly and the Toad
Once upon a time, there was a fly and a toad. Think you know how this story ends? Think again.

In this twisted tale, a female flesh fly deposits her newly-hatched larvae on a harlequin toad’s skin. The white, wormy youngsters wriggle and squirm as they burrow into the toad’s body. Then the maggots devour their victim from the inside out. 

The end. 

Actually, it’s the end for the toad, but not for the larvae. With their bellies full, the maggots turn into pupae. And a few weeks after that, they emerge as adults.

If you look closely at these two versions, you can see how they connect to the ideas I explored in my writer’s notebook. You’ll also notice that some phrases appear in both pieces. That's because they present facts that came from my research.

Because I took the time to find a focus and make personal connections, I was able to create two pieces that are different from each other and different from the way another writer would describe the fly-toad relationship. Not only does this method for evaluating and synthesizing research work for students as well as professional writers, it also makes the writing more vibrant and interesting. AND it helps writers avoid any possibility of plagiarism. 

So which version did I end up using in my book? The section about flesh flies on pages 68-69 is quite similar to Version 1. 

But if you turn to the section about bombardier beetles, you’ll see some similarities to Version 2. For example, the main text begins: “Once upon a time, there was a beetle and a toad.” And the second paragraph says: “Think that’s the end of this true tale? Then you’re in for a surprise.” 

So, in a way, I ended up using them both.

The flesh fly text didn’t change all that much during the revision process, but some sections did. I’ll talk more about that next week.

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