Create Bravely: Make Your Mark
Whoa, phew and holy canoli! Shameful, just shameful!
Sorry it’s taken so long to get part 2 of the amazing SCBWI spring conference blog done.
Life got in the way, as it tends to do sometimes. Quick summation: It was bad (dad had emergency appendix surgery), better (dad is home healing), AWESOME! (Niece’s wedding), talented (both kids were in recitals/concerts and killed it!), mundane (day job, laundry, groceries, cleaning, cooking, and taxi driving). On a side note; a cleaning lady is first on my list when I can afford it!
Anyway… *trumpet blast* onward!
The keynote speaker for the second day was award-winning author Laurel Snyder; Seven Stories Up, The Longest Night, and Good Night Laila Tov, just to name a few! You can check her out at laurelsnyder.com.
I was shocked to hear Ms Snyder say that this was her first keynote speech. She was eloquent, poised and honest. She appeared totally at ease, no matter what her insides were doing. I was immediately engaged and thought, this is a chick I’d like to have a cup of coffee with. Coffee is big in my world, so please know that is a HUGE compliment. LOL!
She spoke the hard truth: “It’s not enough to just produce something. The world is full of books. Produce something worthy of publication.” My interpretation of this is, don’t just write a bunch of crap. Don’t settle for “it’s good enough”. We writers need to hold ourselves to the highest standards. Good enough, is, well, NOT good enough.
Be spectacular! “You can struggle to make work that matters or you can struggle to make work that doesn’t matter. Either way, you’re going to struggle.” Amen to that, sistah!
She also said, “Don’t write a book about vampires because that’s what’s hot on the market right now. If you try to be something you’re not, it’s not authentic and it shows in your work. Everyone is unique with their own personality, voice and experiences. Become who you are. Figure out what is it that YOU have to say that no one else has to say. Make YOUR mark. That’s your book.”
Inspired yet? Wait, it gets better!
“Draw on personal emotions in your writing. Not that you have to write about every painful experience, but you can use those emotions in all of your writing. If you dig deep down you’ll find the things in you that make you brave. Be brave because it will put your best work out in the world.”
A bunch of years ago I had an accident and hurt my back. Now, I’m not going to write a story about how I fell on a treadmill and broke my ass. BUT, I am going to use those same emotions to write a scene where someone is in pain. The subject matter can be different as long as the proper emotion gets across.
Ms. Snyder made another good point; “Who are you writing for? It’s not just that you have something to say, but you want someone to hear it. Picture the person you are writing for. The listener defines the voice of the speaker. The listener will shape the way you write.”
Very true. I am going to use language when I’m writing for a middle school person that’s different when I’m writing for a senior in high school.
Then, Ms. Snyder cleared something up for me personally. Okay, I know she didn’t write it for me, per say, but it spoke to my heart.
“How do you know when to listen to yourself and when to listen to what other people say?”
When you’re a writer you have to have critique partners. You need an opinion on what you’ve written that isn’t from your mom, sister or neighbor; I don’t care how honest you think they’ll be. It’s great if they like what you wrote but their view is going to be tainted, slanted and sometimes just plain wrong. No one who loves you is going to actually tell you you suck.
BUT, what if you get some feedback from a crit partner that feels off to you? Ms. Snyder said, “You have to check in with yourself about how you react to what other people say, and ultimately you have to have the final say.”
For new writers, here are some fun facts that she mentioned:
– Kids don’t read down. A senior in high school is not going to read a middle grade book so when you write to an agent and you mention who your audience is, be mindful of this.
– Publishing shuts down in the summer.
– Querying during the holidays is useless.
Writing in 1st Person with Nova Ren Suma, author of 17 And Gone and her new book, The Walls Around Us, coming out Spring 2015. Congrats! You can check her out at novarensuma.com
Ms. Suma spoke about some of the reasons writers use first person point of view. Sometimes it’s for story reasons; why the story can only be told through this character. It may also be to illuminate the character so that the reader can get up close and personal. “A writer should take advantage of the narrow scope in which first person tells a story. It should be used as a tool not a fall-back.”
The positive possibilities for using first person:
-The story can feel more real and authentic. The reader can know deep secrets only that character can tell. In first person you can “write with authority, bringing the character to vivid life.”
-Some of the challenges for writing in first person and things to consider:
-You have to be distinct not generic. You can’t write in generalities.
-If you are writing from more than one point of view, you have to make it clear who is speaking.
-You have to describe your character/narrator physically. Nova said, “NOT looking in a mirror! It’s been done to death.”
-Make sure your character knows only what they can know.
-Is your narrator’s voice likable?
Nova also reinforced what I’ve heard at all of the conferences I’ve attended: Show don’t tell. “Instead of having your character say, I’m angry, I’m hurt, I’m out of control—show it. She read an excerpt from Miles From Nowhere by Nami Mun to demonstrate this technique.
Ms. Suma gave us some tips on finding your narrators voice:
– Journal as your main character.
– Make a list of character’s stuff; room, clothes, music, images.
– List character’s painful memories, make a to do list, write a letter he/she would write.
Beyond OMG; Writing Authentic Dialogue for Teens with Sashi Kaufman, author of The Other Way Around. You can check her out at http://www.SashiKaufman.com and on twitter @sashikaufman.
Ms. Kaufman said, “Writing good dialogue comes from hearing voices in your head.”
“Listen to the dialogue going on around you.”
I love to write dialogue! Here are some helpful suggestions from Ms. Kaufman on getting it done:
“The use of dialogue is to reveal characters, NOT to advance the plot. Remember that your characters are people first and foremost. Do NOT use dialogue for a plot dump!”
“Everyone needs a voice – Not the same as everyone needs a stereotypical role.”
“When you’re writing for teens realize they are one body in two worlds; not children any more but not adults either. Embrace the contradictions.” I LOVE this accurate statement! I have a sixteen year old and a thirteen year old…I live in contradiction-land 😀
“Make your dialogue do the work.”
“Dialogue reveals characters through conflict.”
If your characters are sitting around having coffee and everything is hunky-dory, your story goes nowhere. If your characters meet at the coffee house to discuss fictitional-Joe’s new head growing out of his arse, well now you’ve got everyone wanting to be at the coffee house.
“With dialogue, less can be more and remember you can never go wrong with IDK.”
“Don’t overuse dialogue tags,” she said knowingly. Dialogue tags, like adverbs, should be used sparingly and thoughtfully. (Love Sashi’s humor!) “Unless you absolutely need something for connotation or sarcasm, a simple he said or she said will usually do it.”
When slang works:
– It’s part of voice.
– It’s carefully researched.
– It’s originality.
When slang fails:
– It’s dated.
– It’s meaningless.
– It’s overused.
For those of us who write YA – How to stalk teenagers:
Starbucks, food courts and movies. Sit near them and listen.
And other social media venues.
Drive a bunch of them some place. (I can totally attest to this one!)
It’s important to note that Ms. Kaufman takes no responsibility if you get arrested. LOL.
A few Truths from Ms. Kaufman:
– Teens don’t stand still to talk. You have to get them moving.
– Teens are emotional creatures. They think with their heart first then their head.
– They are universally self conscious about EVERYTHING.
– Avoid stereotypes.
– When writing parents into the story, keep them clueless.
Six Steps to a Killer 1st Page with Patricia Newman, Regional Advisor for SCBWI. patricianewman.com
“Your first page has some heavy lifting to do. It has to be so compelling that the reader won’t put it down. Your first page is your thirty-second pitch to an agent.”
That statement is SOOOO true! Who hasn’t gone shopping for a new book, picked something up off the shelf, read the first page, and either bought it or put it down? Agents do the same thing. Ms. Newman surveyed a panel of agents for this workshop and shared her findings, which I found t be super useful.
Agents: Scan the cover, read the submitted pages and IF they like the pages, they read the synopsis. The first page must communicate tone through language and style, character and plot, description and setting.
To accomplish what the agents wants, ask yourself these questions:
Who is your character?
Start with people. Show emotion. Focus on a single point in time; setting, relationships, action. Establish the main character’s voice and age. And the end of the page informs the beginning.
Agent Says: Grab me! Intrigue me. Ground me. I can usually tell within the first page if it’s a yes or no.
Where are we?
Give a physical location. What’s the weather? Give a hint to the time period. Include senses; talk about textures to refer to touch, color to sight, and what does it smell like.
When I’m writing a scene I close my eyes and I ask myself, what do I see? What does it sound like? Is it hot or cold, wet or dry? What can I smell? Food? Cut grass? Cow poop? Whatever it is, I write it so that the reader can BE there with me. I have an interior design background so it’s a very visual process for me. BUT, at the same time, Ms. Newman said, “Don’t over burden the reader.” So for me, that means to hold myself back a little. She also said, “–ing words are passive. Get them off the first page.”
What engages us?
Unusual settings. Suspense. Mystery. Character’s voice. The time period. Artful prose (or verse). Read your first page out loud and record it.
I’ve heard of reading the page out loud before but I never thought to record it. I thought, hmm, how does it sound? Is it choppy? Does it flow? Does the voice come through clearly? Did I repeat anything? First page real-estate is precious. Don’t waste it by saying something you’ve already said!
Agent Says: I have to be kidnapped by the language.
What is the Action?
Get your characters moving, put them in motion. Start with a plot point; conflict, question. Get your characters talking: Dialogue. Show vs. Tell. Skip exposition on your first pages. And remember that in YA and MG, parents stay in the background.
Agent Says: Age? Who is this manuscript for?
Who Is Your Audience?
Know your audience. Picture your ideal reader. Do your word choices match the setting and time period? Know the word count for your genre. The child must solve the problem in the story. And lastly, white space is essential on page one.
Agent Says: I want a sense of style on page one. Voice is key.
Does Every Word Count?
What is your language style; formal, conversational, regional? Is your use of vocabulary done well and more importantly, correctly? Use active verbs. Mind the white space! Find the words that suck and change them to ones that are FABULOUS! Every. Word. Counts.
“Make your language sing right off the page.”
Thank you Ms. Newman! LOVED your workshop!
English 101 for Authors with Professor Marvin Terban, author of a ridiculous amount of books! LOL. (see below)
First I have to say, Mr. Terban is hilarious in his presentation. If you have a chance to listen to him speak, do it! You will be informed and entertained for the whole session. Mr. Terban said, “We write for children and therefore have a responsibility in doing it correctly.”
Three reasons why an author uses the best grammar possible:
1. The first person who reads it (agent/editor) does not want to fix it.
2. We write for kids and have a responsibility.
3. Modern day technology is ruining English.
If you send your work to an agent and she/he is looking at your query and someone else’s that is equally engaging, it may come down to grammar to make the decision on who to represent. It is extremely competitive in today’s market. Agents and editors want to work with authors that make their job easier. So even if your idea is good, but your paper is loaded with spelling and grammatical errors, they will pass on you.
Go here to see the top 15 grammatical errors that make you look silly. http://www.copyblogger.com/grammar-goofs
English, and the learning of English, hasn’t changed. Look at some of Mr. Terban’s books, or all if you’re feeling confident your brain won’t explode from the awesomeness. Refresh yourself. Check on the things you think you know. Change all of the things that you have no frickin’ clue about.
Schools can invite PROFESSOR GRAMMAR to visit their school by emailing him at email@example.com.
Like Laurel Snyder said, “It’s not enough to just produce something.”
Be magnificent! Be superb! Be brave! Make your lasting finger print on the world. Be someone who wrote something that people can’t stop talking about. And then do it again, and again, and again…
Peace My Friends 🙂
*You can also find me on twitter @jeannieintrieri