Thursday, April 26, 2012

Advice from the Experts: SCBWI Agent's Day 2012

I’ve been a member of SCBWI since 2008. If you’re thinking about becoming a picture book, middle grade, or young adult author, you really need to join this organization. SCBWI or Society for Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators has been around since 1971 and acts as a network between writers, illustrators, and the publishing industry. They offer conferences and events often. I try to make one, if not, two of these events a year. Everyone can benefit from their events, including Agent’s Day which is held in Newport on the Seaport once a year.

Some advice from the experts this year, which included Linda Pratt from Warren & Pratt, Deborah Warren of East West Literary Agency, Elena Mechlin from Pippin Properties, and Abigail Salmoun of Red Fox Literary: 
There is one thing every writer needs to understand, needs drilled into their head, “We have to revise.” Writing is all about revising. No one has a perfect first draft, but if we walk in there thinking it’s perfect, we’ll never become the best writer we can become.

Also, always remember in order to grab an agent’s attention that you need the following: a good opening, strong voice, and have the ability to create and maintain tension.

A strong opening line has to be intriguing. Take Richard Peck’s first line in The Teacher’s Funeral, “If your teacher has to die, August isn’t a bad time of the year for it.” Not every novel has to open with action. Sometimes they can open with something that makes the reader curious, and makes the reader want to read more.

Voice is hard to define, but the whole life story of the character comes out in their voice. Think of the people reading about them and don’t think of the characters simply as a pawn on the board that we move along. Also, remember that word choice is important when it comes to a character’s voice as well. (Pal-Yankee term; and Ya’ll- Southern)

When it comes to tension keep in mind that tension comes from conflict. We all have a desire to protect our characters, but remember you have to put obstacles in front of them. Tension is a balance in artistic work between opposing forces of elements. Think about Nightmare on Elm Street where someone is killed next; now think of Hitchcock’s Psycho, and the shower scene. In Psycho, we remember the shower scene because we have empathy for the character whereas we don’t have that in any of the Nightmare on Elm Street movies. Why? Because in Psycho we get to know the main character, but in Nightmare on Elm Street, it’s simply who is going to die next. We know little about those characters, and in turn, we don’t care.

In The Hunger Games, we have tension and conflict. When Katniss takes her sister’s place, we suddenly feel empathy for this character that started out a loner. Empathy is action of understanding, being aware of feelings of others without having experiences in an explicit way. Don’t tell them how to feel, show them.

Keep this in mind when writing and it’ll help keep you focused. You might even grab an agent’s attention.

Till next time,

Happy writing!


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