Monday, July 1, 2013

Impressions of NJ SCBWI - Part 2

If you missed Part 1, you can find it at this post. I'd love to tell you about every one of the eight workshops I attended, but I want to keep this from going on too long, so I'll limit myself to two today.

1) Scene Structure with Laurie Calkhoven (author of numerous MG novels, including her Boys of Wartime series) was thorough and informative. I took notes as fast as I could.  Laurie suggests we storyboard every scene of a novel.  Points to keep in mind as you do this:

Setting :  Time and Place. Is it inside or outside? Summer or winter? The reader needs to know! Laurie read from her novel, Daniel at the Siege of Boston, 1776, and told us originally she had Daniel watching from a rooftop. Then she realized he was too far from the action and not involved, so she placed him in the middle of the battle.



Character: All characters in every scene have to want something and should be in opposition to each other.  The main character's desire in every scene should tie into their overall heart's desire in the book. In Hunger Games, Katniss wants the bow and arrow from the cornucopia, and that ties in to her overall desire to stay alive.

Dialogue: The shortcut to conflict. Two characters talking with a purpose. Dialogue also reveals much by what isn't said. Laurie read an excerpt from The Wednesday Wars, a dinner table scene that was mostly dialogue between Holling's father and sister (even though Holling tells the story).


Action: Not only moves the plot along, but also provides clues to character motivation. There should be both action and reaction every time.  

POV: Most children's books use either first person or close third person (Wonder is an exception, with its multiple POVs). She thinks POV is mostly organic or intuitive. Laurie polled a large group of writers and she claims there's really no objective way to choose your POV. Whatever you choose, be consistent!

Climax/Exit Line: Remember we're talking about the climax of a scene here, not the entire book. In every scene, there should be a story arc (characters/setting -- conflict -- climax -- resolution). In the scene at the dinner table in The Wednesday Wars, the climax is when Holling's sister gets up from the table to wash the flower child paint off her face. The exit line is Holling's dad saying, "Please pass the lima beans."

Laurie does this storyboarding for every scene, then writes the scene. If it's not working, she goes back to her storyboard to see what's missing. Every scene has a function or it shouldn't be there!

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2) Who's Telling This Story? Point of View with Meg Wiviott (author of Benno and the Night of Broken Glass, a picture book about Kristallnacht from the POV of a cat)

The main reason I wanted to mention this workshop was the direct contrast with what Laurie Calkhoven said above about POV being intuitive. According to Meg Wiviott, POV is a conscious decision a writer makes that will determine through whose eyes the story will be told. And a lot of it has to do with psychic distance (defined by John Gardner as the distance between the reader and the writer -- think of it as a zoom lens). I also learned that there are five forms of third person. Without going into detail, I'll include examples of each kind:

Dramatic/Objective (Benno and the Night of Broken Glass), Omniscient (Tuck Everlasting, Charlotte's Web), Storyteller/Intrusive (Tale of Despereaux, Artemis Fowl), Limited/Close (Number the Stars), Multiple (Wonder, Parched).



Then of course, there's second person (If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, Blink & Caution), and first person (Speak and many other YA novels). The psychic distance is different for every POV. In first person there is zero psychic distance. Everything is filtered through the main character's eyes.

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The highlight of the last day of the conference, for me, was Tara Lazar's very moving speech. Some of you may know Tara Lazar as a blogger extraordinaire. Her blog, Writing for Kids (While Raising Them) was one of the first blogs I ever followed, back in 2009. So I've observed her journey to publication since her picture book, The Monstore, was first accepted by Simon & Schuster in 2010.


A clever and very funny tale!
Tara Lazar, from her blog

Her speech has us laughing uproariously, at first. She appeared in costume, including a long luxurious beard, smoking jacket and pipe. "I am a published author," she proclaimed in a phony British accent. "I never make mistakes. I never get rejections. I use words like verisimilitude in ordinary conversation. See? I just did." Using broad humor, her speech taught us that the myth of the Great Divide between published and unpublished authors is just that: a myth. She told us she's the same person she was before her book was published. And then she yanked off the costume and grew serious as she told us about her diagnosis in early 2010. She has MS. And the diagnosis came at the same time as her offer of a contract from S&S. So, for Tara, it's been a bittersweet journey. 

Not a dry eye in the house.

24 comments:

  1. This is great. Thanks for sharing. Great information. Tara Lazar story is sad and amazing. I'm sure I would've cried too. It goes to show to live each day to the fullest and to push ahead. Thanks.

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    1. Hi Christine! Glad you enjoyed the info. And yes, Tara's story is both sad and wonderful. But she's one of the funniest people I know, so she's not letting it get her down.

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  2. Thanks for sharing about the conference. It sounds fantastic and l can see you got a lot out of it. I'd never heard of Laurie's suggestion to storyboard every scene. That could really show you a lot about whether the scene is working or not.

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    1. I had never heard of doing that either, Natalie. That's why I was furiously scribbling notes. It makes so much sense, I wish I'd learned about it earlier.

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  3. I especially loved what you shared about POVs. I had no idea there five forms of third person.
    You're lucky Tara was at the conference. It would be nice to meet her one day. Until then I can always get her picture book. :)

    Great post Joanne.

    ~Akoss

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    1. Thanks, Akoss! Glad you enjoyed the POV info. It surprised me there were so many third person forms.

      Tara's very cool. I hope you meet her one day. Please buy her book and support her! Barnes & Noble isn't carrying it, but you can buy it from Amazon or most indie bookstores.

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  4. Thanks for sharing what you did. I would love to hear Tara speak, I'm sure it was amazing!

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    1. I hope someone took a video of it, Jennifer. She's a natural actor.

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  5. Sounds like such a great conference! I went to the NJ conference two years in a row, but decided to skip this year as I'm going to the one in LA. So sad to have missed it, though. Glad you enjoyed (and recapped!).

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    1. Gina! You were there in 2011? So was I! Sorry we didn't connect.

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  6. Thanks for all the great info! I've never met Tara, but she's one of my agency mates at the Erin Murphy Literary Agency. I've been following her on the EMU's Debuts blog and plan to buy Monstore for Christmas presents this year!
    Cindy

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    1. Oh please do buy The Monstore and support her. How cool that you're with Erin Murphy. Seems like a wonderful agency. I hope you get to meet Tara one day.

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  7. I wish I was there. I would have loved to meet Ms. Lazar (and see you again ;) )!

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    1. I hope you get the opportunity to meet Ms. Lazar, Erik! And it would be nice to see you again. Maybe we'll run into each other at a bookstore event somewhere in the area.

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  8. POV seems like it could be discussed for ages. Sounds like a really cool conference, thanks for sharing some insight :)

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    1. You're welcome. And you're probably right about POV, Stephanie! Thanks for stopping by.

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  9. I wasn't aware of Tara's blog, but I'll hop over right now to check it out. Thank you! :)

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    1. She's a very popular blogger, DL, so yes, check her out.

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  10. I think I just took the same class the the NE-SCBWI conference. I even remember the flower paint scene being talked about. Good class. Thanks for sharing!

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    1. Oh, that's cool, Theresa! The New England conference looked wonderful, but it's a little too far for me.

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  11. What a wealth of information this conference was. Thanks for taking us into it.

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  12. Love your tips on POV and character. Conferences are the best.

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    1. Hi Brooke! All I'm doing is paraphrasing the workshops, so not really my tips.

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