Wednesday, August 12, 2009

SCWBI LA Conference round-up, part 2

Good to know my previous post proved useful. Here are a few more tips gleaned from my scribbles.
(Edited to add that Debbie Ohi, aka Inkygirl is also posting gleanings from her time at the SCWBI. Check it out )

One. Openings.
This may be your only/best chance to grab the editor's/agent's/reader's attention. These five elements of a strong opening came from a workshop by Daniel Lazar, agent with Writers' House and Courtney Bongiolatti, editor with Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.
*examples are mine, not theirs.
1. Protagonist's age. This needs to be determined early. Not by blatant references such as 'Millie Milani, aged nine years old...'*, but by oblique reference and inferences from which the reader will intuit the age.
2. Voice - here it is again. That elusive element that gives a piece of writing its unique 'ring'.
3. Situation - establish the set-up early. ..The hot air balloon that has become untethered and is carrying its passengers away, the dog crate that has come unlatched giving its occupant one chance of escape, the swing that has passed its point of no return and is carrying the main character above the inner city park... *
4. Tone - in some ways voice might contribute to this, but this element conveys whether the piece will be high action, dark suspense, humour...
5. 'A certain unclassifiable magic' - which can't be described, no formula conveyed, but this is the element that often gives the first reader an 'aha moment' in which they know the work will be something special.

Two. Most editors and agents need to love your work to champion it. They can no longer take chances on submissions that might make it in the market place, that are very close but not quite, that have something undefinable that they hope to tease from the work.

Three. 'Emotional truths drive the best story, but write from the character's conviction, not your own.' Karen Cushman, author

Four. 'When you're writing, separate the writer from the editor from the critic. Then dump the critic.' Karen Cushman, author

Five. Publishers want books that have a purpose on their list, that are not there just because they're 'good'.

Six. When pitching to an editor or agent, define how your book is both similar and different to others on the market. Two-minute 'Elevator pitches' are too long for anything other than lengthy written queries. Find a short hook line that in some way conveys the spirit and content of your book.

Seven. Richard Peck said: (amongst many other things)
'An epiphany is the sharp point of no return.'
'Make rough music out of real speech.' (Quoting Mark Twain on dialogue)
'A story is always a question. Never an answer.'
'We can't always help kids out of the holes they find themselves in. But our books can keep them company'.

Eight. Death is fiction is often better conveyed third hand. Through the actions and reactions of those affected by it. (Paraphrased from a point made by Steve Watkins, author of Down Sand Mountain.)

Nine. If a writer appears to be difficult to work with (overdemanding, overeactive, not respecting boundaries, etc.) an agent or editor is likely to pass on their work, regardless of how good it is.

Ten. Every main characters need to cast a vivid shadow.

That's it for me. Now I better get to work following up on the goals I came away with from the conference. The blog here can provide more words of wisdom gleaned from presentations and speeches by a very diligent bunch of bloggers during the weekend event.

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