Monday, June 24, 2013

Impressions of NJ SCBWI -- Part 1

I'm from Pennsylvania, so the Eastern PA SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators) Poconos Retreat will always have my heart, but the NJ SCBWI annual conference in Princeton, NJ exercises my brain! There are more workshops (5 on Saturday and 3 on Sunday), more editors, more agents, more opportunities to learn -- and to absorb the glow from such luminaries as Lauren Oliver, Wendy Mass, Tara Lazar, Corey Rosen Schwartz, and Ame Dyckman, winner of this year's Crystal Kite Award (for the Atlantic region) for Boy + Bot.

Is this book adorable? Affirmative!


Ame Dyckman (Photo source)

The NJ conference is a little exhausting. Okay, it's extremely exhausting, coupled with the fact that I didn't sleep more than 4 hours each night.

My first workshop on Saturday morning was my favorite of the weekend. Kit Grindstaff, debut MG author of THE FLAME IN THE MIST, and Jennifer Hubbard, YA author of THE SECRET YEAR and TRY NOT TO BREATHE, took us into The Dark Underbelly and taught us how to add flaws, secrets, and lies to deepen our characters and their stories. What ghosts from the past haunt your character? What skeletons are in their closet? What don't they know about themselves?

This workshop helped me realize what was missing from my novel.


And I highly recommend Kit Grindstaff's novel (which I finished reading after the conference). With the help of two magical golden rats, a friend named Digby, and an ancient book, Jemma must fight the evil Agromond family and the Mist that has overtaken Anglavia. If you like your MG fantasy action-packed and dark, with a strong female protagonist, if you like getting lost in a long (449 pages) and fascinating tale, with excellent worldbuilding, The Flame in the Mist (Delacorte, April, 2013, for ages 9 and up) should be on your TBR list. Sorry -- I can't give away my hardcover. It's personalized!

One of my other favorite workshops was run by Wendy Mass. You've seen her mentioned on this blog more than once.


Using examples from her newest book, PI IN THE SKY, Wendy taught us the secret to her success. She doesn't outline; she blueprints. This is her term for a system in which you start with a list of 20 important events that must happen in your novel (each described in one or two words). Then you rewrite them in the order you want them. Take the first idea and that becomes Chapter One. Your next step is to list 10 important events that must happen in Chapter One (or you can use 5 or 6 events if it feels too long). Step 3 is to change each idea into a who, what, when, where, or why question. And then answer them. Do this for each chapter and you have a complete Blueprint. When you're ready to turn it into a novel, write a page for each of the chapter ideas.

It's as simple as that. I can't wait to try this method myself.

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Next week: POV and Scene Structure, plus a funny and touching moment with Tara Lazar, author of THE MONSTORE!

Are you a member of SCBWI or some other writing organization? Have you ever attended the NJ conference?

28 comments:

  1. What a great conference line-up! I'm a member of SCBWI-MI, and we recently joined forces with Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio for a mega-conference. Fabulous, but yes, exhausting too!

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    1. Hi Kristin! Yes, mega-conferences would exhaust me even more. But you probably met a lot of wonderful authors!

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  2. Oh thank you so much for sharing with us.
    It's my goal to attend a conference one day but until yet I have to live it vicariously through people like you.

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  3. Eek (lol!), what a great post about what sounds like a great conference. Thanks _so much_ for sharing some of what you learned, I am taking notes. Plus, what a lineup of people to learn from. My oh my.

    Thanks again and happy writing/revising/blueprinting/digging deeper with that book of yours.

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  4. Sounds like a great conference! Wendy's blueprints ideas sound very interesting, I can't wait to hear how it works for you.

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    1. Well... I'm no Wendy Mass! But it's a cool idea. We'll see.

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  5. I think I already do something similar to blueprints. I just didn't know there was a name for it. :)

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  6. What a great line-up. Can't believe you got away with only 4 hours sleep a night though!!

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    1. It wasn't intentional, Michael! But I always get keyed up at these conferences and have trouble falling asleep. I even tried Tylenol PM this time and it didn't work! I was amazed I could function at all during the day.

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  7. What great ideas! I have to start going to these!

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    1. Someday, Erik! But I believe you might have to be 18 to join SCBWI. There are online conferences you could attend now, though.

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  8. Oooh jealous of your conference. Love your tips on deepening characters.

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    1. Hey Brooke! Glad to see you here again. Hope you get to a conference yourself eventually.

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  9. Thank you so much for the mention, Joanne, and your great comments about the workshop! I'm so glad you enjoyed it - and what an honor that it was your favorite of the weekend.

    AND of course, delighted about your book recommendation! (Jemma and the rats thank you for that, too...)

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    1. Gotta love those golden rats! Thanks for stopping by, Kit! Honored to have you here.

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  10. I'm glad you had a good time. I have looked at the NJ conference several times. They always seem to have an outstanding line up.

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    1. They certainly do have more editors and agents than most conferences have.

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  11. Well this conference sounds like it was fabulous! It sounds like the workshops were interesting and helpful. I loved hearing what you learned. The blueprint idea sounds interesting. Thanks for sharing!
    ~Jess

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  12. I really want to go to the SCBWI conferences in NJ and the Poconos. Maybe one day.

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    1. Oh, you definitely should, Medeia! That would be fun.

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  13. I'm a member of the Mystery Writers of America, but if my venture in YA actually succeeds, I'll probably join the SCBWI as well. :)

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    1. That would be cool, Don. And SCBWI would be glad to have you!

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  14. Great info here Joanne! Thanks for sharing. The blueprint idea is interesting... to bad I am a big panster! :-)

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    1. Ah, I'm a pantser too, Julie (and I met someone there who'd never heard the term...), but I'm curious about this blueprinting. Just haven't tried it yet. I'll let you know if I ever tackle it.

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