Thursday, October 27, 2011

Processing a Conference -- Or, Unspinning Your Head, Part 2

In which we continue some random thoughts from the SCBWI-WI fall retreat, with the goal of both sharing and organizing them. :) Scroll down one for Part 1 of this post.
  • One of the excellent parts of a conference is traveling back and forth with a friend and talking about writing plus whatever, all the way there and back.
  • Three ways to strengthen a character, according to Cheryl Klein, are by giving her an unusual desire, giving her some sort of expertise, and making that character liked by other people in the story. Make the people who dislike your character people the reader will also dislike.
  • Writers aren't necessarily as quiet as we might think, based on the buzz of conversation during the late-night socials.
  • One of my favorite quotes from the weekend, by Marsha Wilson Chall, is this: "Editors raise questions. Writers answer them." This is why I raise a lot of questions when I edit my ICL book course students' work. :) 
  • Another tidbit from Marsha: In a picture book, text is nouns and verbs, pictures are adjectives, and page turns are transitions.
  • When presenting at a conference, and probably anywhere else, speakers must use Power Point. We've reached that, ahem, Point. Audiences expect visuals. And when you find funny pictures to use with your points, you have a great way to build humor into your talk without having to say funny things.
  • Every single one of our speakers was animated, entertaining, and organized-yet-off-the-cuff, along with having an excellent visual presentation. They were great! Frankly, I've been to conferences where people read their presentations. That didn't happen here.
  • Beach Lane Books wants to publish books that are truly for kids, not their parents. Refreshing, much?
  • According to Andrea Welch, along with having a strong narrative arc, lovely language, and memorable characters, a story will do well to address an emotional or cognitive developmental need in the child.
  • As an agent, Tracey Adams values communication with clients. This is great to hear, as we have all heard stories of communication breakdowns. What a writer needs to be able to do when signing with an agent is to trust that agent to submit to the right editors, negotiate the best possible deal, be knowledgable, and be accessible, and Tracey nailed it -- to me she came across as, above all, trustworthy. 
  • While reading craft books is necessary and helpful, studying published books for technique is just as important. Whether you're going to try a POV you haven't used before (first person, multiple, omniscient), explore using an unreliable narrator, or give wacky humor a shot, you can probably find a published book that has done it. Study it. How does it succeed? Is there any respect in which it could be better?
  • Conferences are a shot in the arm!
  • Conferences couldn't happen without all the dedicated folk who head statewide SCBWI chapters and do all the work of helping us meet, network with, and learn from industry professionals. We are so blessed to have these people, and in Wisconsin they abound. Thank you!


Andrea Mack said...

Wow - it sounds like you got so much out of this conference. Thanks for sharing your tidbits. I really liked that quote about editors and writers, so true.

Vijaya said...

I loved that part about raising questions ... My critique partner and I worked exactly like that. Lots of questions and in answering her, I was able to articulate the motivations of the characters.

Holly Black and E. Lockhart did an impromptu critique session like this at our most recent WWA conference.

I also do the same to my students :)

I also love driving with a buddy, though the last couple of years our conference was practically in my backyard. I'm going to miss that.

Thanks for your impressions, Marcia. Very helpful.

Bish Denham said...

I'm so envious! The tip about how to strengthen a character was simple and well put.

Ann Herrick said...

Conferences are great for renewed energy and enthusiasm for writing!

Mirka Breen said...

Thank you, Marcia. As always, so very helpful and uplifting.

Marcia said...

Andrea -- This was probably the best one I've ever been at. As we're challenged to produce ever more polished work for submission, the conference presentations get better, too.

Vijaya -- A gifted editor, then, asks the right questions. But I kind of like that as writers, we get to shoot for answers. :) I've heard that Holly Black is "brilliant."

Bish -- I especially like the advice about having other people like your character, and making those who'd DISlike her the same people the reader wouldn't like.

Ann -- I know -- the overall inspiration is such a blessing.

Mirka -- Thank you! The generosity in our industry at every level is so wonderful to see.

Barbara Watson said...

Your shot in the arm is bubbling over to me! Thank you. Although I don't write picture books (right now anyway), I LOVE the way Marsha described one!

cleemckenzie said...

I think doing presentations in front of a large gathering is terrifying, but after I've finished I always have this adrenaline rush. And you're so right, capturing your audience with good visuals is absolutely necessary.

MG Higgins said...

Thank you for this great recap! Conferences ARE a shot in the arm and I wish it was easier for me to travel to more of them. At least your post gave me a taste of the information jolt and excitement.

Christina Farley said...

I really enjoyed both of your blog posts. So interesting. I love hearing about conferences so thanks for sharing!

Mary Witzl said...

Thank you for these useful pointers, Marcia. I REALLY need to go to a writers' conference.

I smiled smugly when I read the bit about PowerPoint presentations. I gave my first one two months ago and I'll be giving my next two on Monday.

Faith E. Hough said...

I'm glad you had a good conference. Thank you for sharing the good advice!

Marcia said...

Barbara -- I loved that, too. I don't write PBs either, but I enjoy learning the intricacies of such a deceptively simple form, and it helps me help my ICL students.

Lee -- I always get the rush while driving back home from speaking, and I do love it. Am not in a "speaking period" right now, but I need to reinvent myself when I get there. :)

MG -- Sometimes it would help if the conferences were closer, but the drive has its bennies, too. And it's only 2 hours for me.

Christina -- Thanks, and you're welcome! I too enjoy conference posts. You really can get the shot in the arm vicariously, at least a little.

Mary -- I've yet to get my toes wet with Power Point. Fear of technological breakdown must dog such talks, no? Do you have to be prepared for what to do if the Power Point doesn't work?

Faith -- It's hard to believe it was already two weeks ago. I wouldn't mind reliving it, and I say that about virtually NOTHING.

Kelly Hashway said...

"Editors raise questions. Writers answer them." <--Love this! I work as a freelance editor and I raise questions all the time to the writers I work with. Sometimes you need someone else to give you a nudge in the right direction and honestly questions are the best way to do it.

Susan Fields said...

I'm going to a writer's conference this weekend, and the part I'm probably looking forward to most is that I'm going with an old friend who moved away and I don't get to see very often. You're right, that is one of the excellent parts of a conference!

Cynthia Chapman Willis said...

What great information! I love the advice about character as well as the Power Point tip. It sounds like you attended a wonderful conference and came away with lots of useful information. Thanks for sharing some of it!

Marcia said...

Kelly -- I think questions work, too. Once, I had a student say she was frustrated with all the questions. "Just tell me what to do!" But questions leave ownership of the story with the author, where it belongs.

Susan -- Have a wonderful time in every way!

Cynthia -- I'm so glad I chose to go this year.