SCBWI Florida conference round-up (Part 1)

On Friday, I took a novel intensive workshop with agent Erin Murphy, editor Krista Marino and author Joyce Sweeney. Holy awesome information, Batman! This is just a sampling of what was discussed. If I tried to type up every note I took, this post would be so long your eyes would gloss over, so I’ve whittled it down to what I think is the most pertinent info. YW. 😉

First up, Erin Murphy spoke about overcoming obstacles and finding the time to write. She introduced us to the Pomodoro technique, which I’d never heard about but is a pretty cool idea. Basically, you turn off the internet, lock yourself in a room, set a timer and write for 25 minutes. When the buzzer dings, you stand up, take a 5 minute break, then get back into it for another 25. You can do as many sessions as you want, but if you do four Pomodoros in a row, take a longer break after (so as not to go crazy, one would assume).
Next up, Joyce Sweeney spoke about building a scene. According to Joyce, every scene must contribute to the plot. At the end of the scene, as yourself two questions:
1. What does this scene mean for the novel?
2. What has changed for the main character?
If you can’t answer one or both of these questions, either lose the scene or rewrite it. This is such great advice (and something I admittedly had to learn the hard way after churning out several crappy drafts of a novel).
Finally, Krista Marino, executive editor at Delacorte Press, spoke about the four elements of voice:
1. Diction—This includes vocabulary choices or the style of expression you choose for your character.
2. Perspective—This is NOT point of view. It’s “mental view.” It’s the character’s experience and why s/he knows what s/he knows.
3. Characterization—All of the external and internal characteristics of your protagonist. This looooong list includes things like physical appearance, age, gender, financial status and religion, as well as ambitions and motivations. According to Krista, motivation is missing in so many manuscripts she reads. Why does the character make certain choices? You MUST know the answer to this question.
4. Dialogue—This includes the NUMBER ONE thing Krista said is missing in manuscripts: internal monologue. A writer must tell the reader what the character is thinking and feeling at a given time. An internal monologue can (and sometimes SHOULD) be different from the character’s external actions.
A few final tips offered by the panelists:
1. Spend a good chunk of time getting to know your protagonist before you start writing. It will make crafting your book that much easier.
2. Raise the stakes in every scene. Each scene needs to carry your readers up-up-up, or else they’re going to shut the book and toss it aside.
3. Remember that when you’re young, everything feels like the end of the world, and every teen is fraught with insecurity. Craft your scenes accordingly.
4. Put as much of the character’s background as you can into a first draft. It’s always better to err on the side of too much, and you can always edit it out later.
5. Your protagonist’s voice should be different at the end of the book from what it was at the beginning. This is growth.
And finally:
6. The NUMBER ONE key to revision is distance and objectivity. Finish a draft and put it away for several weeks, just enough time for it to seem fresh the next time you read it.
Coming tomorrow: Part 2—the main conference and break-away sessions.
(EDIT: Until then, hop on over to Pam and Quita’s blog. They’re having a truly awesome 100 followers giveaway you should totally enter!)
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6 Responses

  1. Susan says:

    Wow — thanks for all the info!! It sounds like a GREAT conference, and I appreciate you sharing what you learned!

    And yeah, the bit about "scenes contributing to plot" was something of a revelation for me when I figured it out a year ago… I had to throw out my first novel (it was soooo not salvageable) and start a new one where every scene had a purpose! Better we figure it out eventually than never! 🙂

  2. Alicia Gregoire says:

    Great round up, Meredith!

  3. Rachel Searles says:

    This is all great information, thanks for sharing! I tried using a timer to write for the first time yesterday, and it really did help me focus.

  4. Pam Harris says:

    Great post! I really like the idea about writing for 25 min and then taking a break. Just don't know if I can actually turn off my internet! Also, for me, I've found that starting a first draft helps me get to learn more about my character. I usually do bios after the majority of the first draft is done, and then I work on character-building in my revisions.

  5. Carrie says:

    Great post! I have been wondering whether or not I should start going to conferences and after reading this I have an answer…YES. Thanks for the info!

  6. Su says:

    Wow, really great stuff. Thanks for sharing!

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