Monday, October 4, 2010

My notes from the latest SCBWI conference in Cowtown.

This was a great conference!  The editors were friendly and funny. This might be review for most writers, but I needed to hear it.
Have an outline or story analysis.  This is an effective tool to identify trouble spots and streamline your narrative. Knowing your story is important.  If you don’t know it, no one will.  Test your ideas before you commit to it.  Create a scene outline through a graph, index cards or whatever is useful to you.  Identify gaps and fill them in.  Brainstorm: what is the worst thing that could happen to your characters?  How can you make this the best thing?  How can I prevent them from getting it?  As an author you have the permission to be mean to your characters. A typical novel has 40-60 scenes.  A picture book has 5-10.  Always make more scenes than you need, then cut out the boring ones
Find your story’s turning points.  These are meaningful decisions that must involve consequences.  A complication arises that interferes with the protagonist reaching his goal.  The protagonist has to change his expectations and overcome the complication.  There should be one of these in each chapter, while a major complication involves the whole book.  90% of the scenes in your story should contain a turning point.
Always follow classic structure.  This is defined as:
Act One; introduction.  Hook the reader on the first line.  Your protagonist needs to realize they know what they want, but it takes an irreversible action to accomplish the goal.
Act Two; progressive complications until they reach the most difficult challenge.  This is the climax.
Act Three; resolution
This may sound clich√©, but it is effective.  It reflects the human problem.  Avoid using a prologue.  Use your exposition as ammunition (always include action within description)
Analyse your characters.  Find out what they are thinking BEFORE you find out what they are saying.  A few suggestions for character development are:
Interview your character. Get to know them as real people.  Find a picture of them.  Create a profile. Include these descriptions: physical appearance, (Try not to describe this.  Show it, but don’t spell it out) environmental factors, and core beliefs and values.   What is their definition of safety?  How do they see themselves?  How do others see them? Find out how they would react to situations.  What are their outside influences?  What is their level of independence?  Readers who are children are character driven.  They want to sympathize with the character and cheer for them.  Your character is the centerpiece.  They are the essence of humanity - the struggle to live.  Make them archtypes, not stereotypes.  They are imperfect.  Perfect is boring and unrealistic.  Different is interesting.  Give them a lot of stress and see how they react.
Create relationship triangles.  How do three characters interact with each other?  Keep it consistent.  Use other characters to contrast their personalities.  Go beyond the obvious.  Begin with children interacting with children, not children interacting with adults.  Children typically don’t express their emotions to adults.  Kids want to feel independent.  Don’t be cutesy, it is condescending.
Analyze your Setting.  The primary purpose of the setting is to reflect your main character.  Does the setting change alongside your character?  Does it embellish the relationships within you characters?  Are your scenes linear or circular?  Does the character return to the same setting as the beginning and how has he changed?  IE. Harry Potter.  After an entire year at Hogwarts he returns to the Dersly’s house.  The house is the same, but he is completely changed.
Analyze your dialogue.  Show - don’t tell.  Sound natural, but not repetitious.  Sound clear unless to illustrate a point. Find a unique voice influences by their environment.  Avoid having all of you characters talk the way you do.  Read their dialogue out loud. Move the scene along without explaining everything.  Readers can fill in the gaps.  Speech tags should clarify whose speaking without being overused.  They should include actions and feelings to control the unspoken messages.  The power of communication is not in the telling, but in the understanding.  Don’t compromise your morals as a writer by having a character speak below your values.  If you don’t want them to swear, make up different curse words.
Edit yourself.  Get it written out first, edit later.  Give yourself space from your work. Edit for:
Clarity – NO SPELLING MISTAKES!  Does it make sense logically? Does it make sense chronologically?   Does it flow easily when you read it out loud?  Don’t put two concepts in the same sentence.  Don’t be too complicated.  .  Don’t insert information in the wrong places.  Be subtle by condensing exposition.
Content- Does it stay interesting throughout?  Do characters stay consistent?  Beware of using a moral; let your readers extract it.  Beware of rhyming, it is too competitive.
 Language - Use active language.  Use metaphors over similes.  Don’t address the audience.  Don’t explain it, just live it.  Don’t use passive language.  Watch out for repetition!  Don’t be afraid of dating yourself.  An average self life for any publication is six months.
 Formatting – Check word count. Titles should be no longer than 5 words.  Do not use too many codes. (use a program that has macros)  Use proper key strokes for hard returns, indenting etc.  Do not manually format your work, otherwise the editor has to undo it all. Including DOLCH sight lists and spelling words for certain grades always looks good in a query letter.  If you are doing a picture book, include subtext for the illustrator.  Making a mock up is a great organizational tool, but don’t submit it.
Get multiple opinions and critiques.  If it is not worth rewriting, a critique/editor wouldn’t tell you how to fix it.  Make sure your character or title has not already been used for other publications.  You do not want the competition.  Compare it to other books in the same genre.  What makes yours better?

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1 comment:

Ishta Mercurio said...

Great post! Thanks for all the tips!