Thursday, October 25, 2012

SCBWI-WI Conference Highlights, Part 1

Our annual fall conference was held Oct. 19-21, and it was a great time to hear inspiring and informative speakers, chat with old friends, meet new friends, get away from normal life for a bit, and eat way, way, too much chocolate. Without further ado, here are the high points from three speakers that I took away from the conference.

Kathi Appelt:
  • What's your MC's main ROLE in your story? It's often something fairly straightforward like son, daughter, sibling, or student. While your MC will no doubt have multiple roles in life just as we all do, one of these roles will be main in this story. Identify it.
  • What is your MC's controlling belief? As soon as Kathi said this, I began jotting down the controlling beliefs of the three POV characters in my WIP. This is powerful stuff, because the controlling belief PUSHES the character through the story. If your character doesn't seem quite jelled, or does unbelievable things, check that he's operating according to his controlling belief and not violating it.
  • Identify your MC's goal. The goal PULLS the MC through the story.
  • The story should contain a crisis of faith moment when the controlling belief is called into question. It may or may not be changed, but it should be challenged.
  • Whether or not the MC achieves the goal may not matter that much, because confronting the controlling belief alone can make a satisfying story.
  • Can you tell I LOVED Kathi's talk?
Sara Zarr:
  • Your experience or memory of a book is of how it made you feel.
  • Even an action scene should do emotional work.
  • If a chapter doesn't have emotional progression, either add it or cut the chapter.
  • Control pacing by adding or subtracting stage business.
  • Control pacing with language, sentence structure, and punctuation.
  • By pp. 30-50, are the seeds of everything that's going to happen there?
EM Kokie:
  • Voice is the personality of the teller of the story.
  • Voice is a promise of what's to come in the book.
  • Voice can be deliberately strengthened in revision.
  • Pacing issues can be a matter of verb tense. 
Stay tuned for next Thursday, when I'll give you highlights from one more talk: mine! :)


Faith E. Hough said...

Ooh, great questions. My mind is racing, applying them to my own work.
Thanks for sharing them, and I'm glad you had a great time (and the occasion to eat chocolate :)!

Dawn Malone said...

I heard Kathi speak when she was in Illinois two years ago - wonderful! The controlling belief idea was a lightbulb moment for me. I thought of going to the Wisconsin conference, but chose another instead. Thanks for the summary!
(Will you be at the Illinois conference next month?)

Barbara Watson said...

Controlling belief. I like that. I also like hearing this: Voice can be deliberately strengthened. I have stories where the voice is just 'there' and others where I have to work on it--sometimes a lot.

Marcia said...

Faith -- For me, the "controlling belief" point was almost worth the whole conference. And the snack table was groaning as usual! We got to introduce an editor to cheese curds. :)

Dawn -- Yeah, controlling belief was awesome. Maybe you'll be able to make a WI conference in the future! I'd love to meet you -- though I don't attend the conference every year. We have a spring luncheon on a Saturday in April that's held near Milw. Would that work for you? Alas, I will not be at the IL conference. I can really only manage one.

Barbara -- Looks like controlling belief is really making an impression! :) And "voice can be deliberately strengthened" is something we need to be saying more. I don't buy that voice always has to be there from the start, though that teaching is out there.

Vijaya said...

My kids grew up on KA's books ... she is wonderful! I hope some day I get to soak in her wisdom and presence. Great questions. Thank you for sharing so much.

So happy you had a good time.

Mirka Breen said...

This must be regional SCBWI season. So glad you enjoyed yours, and came here to pass helpful guidance.

Janet Smart said...

Thanks for sharing this info with us. Looking forward to your next post.

Marcia said...

Vijaya -- I'd like to take a look at KA's PBs. My intro to her was The Underneath, which just blew me away.

Mirka -- I think a lot of them do happen in fall, don't they? It was a very good time.

Janet -- You're welcome, and thanks for stopping by!

Kelley Lynn said...

This conference was fantastic, wasn't it?? Loved all the speakers :)

Marcia said...

Kelley -- It was excellent. :)

Saumya said...

Hi, Marcia! So glad I found your blog. I just posted some tips for anyone doing NaNo and never even thought of the points you mentioned here. I'll definitely be looking at this during future revisions. Looking forward to following along with your writing journey :)

Unknown said...

This sounds like it was a great conference. I do figure out my characters' controlling beliefs before I start the first draft.

Thanks for the notes. :D

Ruth Schiffmann said...

Ooo., thanks for sharing these highlights, Marcia. Sounds like it was a great conference.

cleemckenzie said...

Some great notes here, Marcia. Thanks for taking them and sharing them on your blog.

I'm back from a greatly appreciated blog break and it's wonderful to stop here and say hi again.

A.L. Sonnichsen said...

Wow, that's great about the controlling belief. Do you have any examples? I'm trying to think what these would be for my characters and for characters in books I've read and enjoyed.... Hmmm. Thanks for getting my brain working. Glad you had a great conference!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing your notes. I love conference breakdowns. I'll be pondering controlling beliefs.

Marcia said...

Saumya -- Thanks for coming, and I'm glad you found it helpful!

Stina -- It was good. :)

Ruth -- You're welcome! It was an excellent time.

Lee -- Welcome back! Glad you're refreshed.

Amy -- Hmm, example: The Cowardly Lion's controlling belief is that he has no courage. Maybe, to dig a little deeper, it's that he's a fraud at being a lion? Some controlling beliefs are fairly obvious while others you have to dig for.

Medeia -- I love conference breakdowns, too. I've come to realize, though, that we can only share tidbits because otherwise it can get into "theft of someone else's intellectual property" territory.

Cynthia Chapman Willis said...

I love SCBWI conferences. I was lucky enough to hear Kathi Appelt speak about controlling beliefs last March. Powerful stuff that made such a difference in my revision.

Marcia said...

Cynthia -- After she talked about them, she said, "And I hope all of you are thinking abour your characters right now," which is exactly what I was doing. She led us right there.

Angela Ackerman said...

Great summary...thanks so much for sharing! I am so glad you had such a great time at the conference!


Marcia said...

Angela -- You're welcome, and thanks for stopping by! :)