Monday, January 23, 2012

Page 1...

Okay, so back to the Miami conference... According to speaker Donna Jo Napoli, there are a few things that a first page just can't live without:
(1) introduce the main character
(2) introduce the main character's problem, or at least something that will lead to the problem
(3) introduce the "hook" - what kind of story it is - a buddy story? a story about school?
(4) introduce the tone of the book - Scary? start with a creepy sentence. Sassy? start with snappy dialouge

Bottom line: Hit the ground running!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Sidebar: "Children's Picturebooks" Book

Allow me to take a break from re-capping the Miami conference to introduce a new book, coming out next month... "Children's Picturebooks: The Art of Visual Storytelling" by Martin Salisbury and Morag Styles. According to the publisher's (Laurence King) description:

Children’s picturebooks are the very first books we encounter, and they form an important, constantly evolving, and dynamic sector of the publishing world. But what does it take to create a successful picturebook for children? In seven chapters, this book covers the key stages of conceiving a narrative, creating a visual language and developing storyboards and design of a picturebook. The book includes interviews with leading children’s picturebook illustrators, as well as case studies of their work. The picturebooks and artists featured hail from Australia, Belgium, Cuba, France, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Singapore, South Korea, Spain, Taiwan, the UK and the USA. In this publication, Martin Salisbury and Morag Styles introduce us to the world of children’s picturebooks, providing a solid background to the industry while exploring the key concepts and practices that have gone into the creation of successful picturebooks.
My opinion? Sounds flippin' awesome.

Top 10 Do's and Don'ts ...

...of conference-going.

Bet you thought I was going to say "of writing" or "of submitting." Well I do have plenty of lists like that, but this one pertains to how to behave at an SCBWI event. Here goes:

(1) Be able to discuss your book without reading a script.
(2) If meeting with an agent / editor - learn something about them in advance.
(3) Meet as many people as possible.
(4) Be realistic. You are probably not going to get an agent or contract. Sorry.
(5) Attend as many workshops / lectures / events as you can (hey, you paid for the privilege...)
(6) Be nice to newbies. Even the annoying ones.
(7) Dress in business casual - that does NOT mean sweatpants.
(8) Don't be nervous.
(9) Accept criticism gracefully (i.e. no public sobbing or yelling - save it for your hotel room).
(10) Be professional. No costumes, stalking agents into the bathroom, or heavy drinking (again, save that for your hotel room).

Agent Michael Bourret created this list (summarized by yours truly), and copies were slipped into our conference packets. My favorite is #10. I would love, LOVE to see someone in a costume, slipping their manuscript under a toilet stall whilst hammered. But that never happens at FL SCBWI events. We are too well-behaved. Darn it.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

My Kind of Exercise

During the Picture Book Intensive, presenter and author/editor Diane Muldrow introduced a fabulous writing exercise - divide the text from one of her Golden Books into 24 pages. Key concerns were: (1) creating interesting page turns, (2) allowing for beautiful visual spreads where the art matched the text, (3) using words themselves as a graphic element, and (4) pacing the plot.
This is an exercise I do with my current work, but I usually use the standard 32 page format. 24 pages was quite the challenge! But it was also a good reminder that, as Diane pointed out, not every story is meant to be an up market, hard cover, 32 page, fancy-pants, glossy picture book.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Ten Commandments of Children's Writing

These wonderful tips were shared at the Picture Book Intensive held on Friday. They come from the talented Richard Peck and have been summarized, by little ol' me, as follows:

(1) Don't write your autobiography. Nobody cares. It's better for your story to be the biography of someone the reader would like to be.

(2) Jump right in and start in the middle of the action. Don't "warm up" the reader with background information.

(3) Do not allow adult adult characters to take over the story - at most they should facilitate or, better yet, impede, a young main character.

(4) Avoid sentimentality - keep an edge in your work.

(5) Your character must grow / evolve between the first page and the last. They have to take some sort of independent step towards maturity.

(6) Read. Read. Read. Read. Then read some more.

(7) Research. Research. Research. Research. Then research some more.

(8) Once you have an audience of young readers, do NOT correspond with them via e-mail. E-mail says you don't care enough to send your best.

(9) Avoid adverbs.

(10) Improve your vocabulary.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

It's A Mad, Mad World

Well, at least it was this past weekend when members of the FL SCBWI gathered in Miami for an Alice in Wonderland / Mad Hatter themed conference. I'll be posting notes from workshops and lectures over the next few days - but today I'll start with this:


That's my new mantra and that's what these events do to me - they inspire me, light the fire, validate the hours I spend trying find an insightful rhyme for underpants. It's okay for me to turn off the phone, step over that pile of dirty laundry (the cat needs a place to sleep anyway), and focus on writing. And it's okay for you too.