7 Insights from the 2017 SCBWI Europolitan Conference in Brussels

Art Deco building with musical motifs under every window showing the history of written music
This beautiful building is the musical instrument museum in Brussels, Belgium.

The Society of Children’s Writers and Book Illustrators (SCBWI) “Europolitan conference” is a chance to meet people who write for kids in English and live all over Europe. Yay!

  • Lots of languages
  • 65 writers and illustrators, talking top-speed,
  • Belgian fish and chips.

Top 7 insights from the conference:

1. “Build your own community” was a huge theme. It’s easy to think “there’s no one near me who writes,” but it’s never true. Even where the official languages aren’t English, there are people writing fiction for children in English. If you haven’t found your people yet, give it another try.

If you need tips, check here and here.

In case you think isolation is a writer problem, think again.

Literary Agent Gemma Cooper organized “Agent Mixers” in Chicago for young editors and agents. Early in her career, she shadowed agent Penny Holroyde to learn the business. The author equivalent: “study the books in your genre.”

Editorial Director Penguin Random House Children’s, Natalie Doherty met with a group of editors from other publishing houses. They declared their meetings a neutral zone: “This is Switzerland.” After all, multiple editors could easily be competing for the same author.

2. Why write for middle grade (9-12 year olds)? Literary agent, Gemma Cooper’s example of middle grade “obsessions” reminded me of the way it feels to be twelve years old.

As a child, she was obsessed with Egyptian hieroglyphics and her brother was obsessed with space.

This reminds me of why children’s books are the key to a happy life. The things we explore when we are young are the things that enrich our lives. Wealth is not all about the stock market.

How else do people create a world-class collection of musical instruments? Gotta start young. 🙂

3. Writing for young readers is also about modelling creativity. Story comes first of course! Both author/illustrator Chris Mould and author Robin Stevens talked about encouraging young readers to draw, write, and look at the world differently.

Robin Stevens’ hands-on way to start a story invites listeners into the process. She’s got the most delicious pile of “clues.” So easy–a sure sign of a true expert! She does school visits the same way. Wouldn’t you love to hear those mysteries?

4. Traditional publishing is reaching out. Social media has made things more transparent for publishers too. Editors can contact book buyers from bookstores on Twitter.

Keywords and categories came up even though that’s normally a self-publishing conversation. Traditionally published authors are also expected to know more about their audiences.

5. Genre fiction still isn’t everything. According to the lovely Natalie Doherty, Books like Wonder, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, Holes, and The Book Thief are referred to in-house as having a “Special Book Feel.” They address “weighty themes in accessible ways.” A hopeful sign.

6. Transparency isn’t quite everywhere. It sounds like getting accurate sales numbers for books is still challenging, even for super agents like Gemma Cooper. If anyone can fix it, she can.

7. Book Cover “Aha!” moment. It’s hard to figure out what you need to create a solid book cover. This is why:

“Cover designs bring all the publishing departments together.” —Laurent Linn, Art Director Simon & Schuster.

Creating a book is a group process. The best product comes from a team that works respectfully together.

Did you find something here to help you move forward? Or have something to add? Feel free to comment below. Thanks for dropping by!

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If you’d like to stay in touch, sign up for my Reader’s List. Once a month, I share new middle grade fiction, story-related freebies, and/or related blog posts. If it’s not your thing, you can unsubscribe at any time.

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Contrast with Apple Blossoms, Bach, and Story

These apple blossoms and buds look like visual staccato and legato notes.

Sometimes learning something that you had given up on changes your whole view of the world. James Rhodes’ How to Play Piano teaches rank beginners how to play J.S. Bach’s Prelude in C Major. I never learned to read the bass clef and I’ve really been enjoying this attempt. It makes you wonder what else is still possible.

Rhodes suggests listening to the following musicians play the Prelude. They all interpret it differently:

All of those versions got me thinking about contrast in fiction. While down the YouTube rabbit hole about what that middle pedal on the piano is for, I discovered Robert Estrin’s virtual piano lesson about using short (staccato) and long (legato) notes to bring out the melody in Beethoven’s sonatas.

It’s got me wondering how I can bring out the main story arc using contrast in fiction. There are lots of things to try:

  • Rhythm: Short and long sentences
  • Pacing: Dialogue, action, exposition
  • Setting: Light/Dark, Loud/Soft, Hectic/Peaceful

It all ties into Friday’s post on The Winged Pen about a Setting Exercise from The Rural Setting Thesaurus. Rebecca Smith-Allen’s post on the The Urban Setting Thesaurus is up today.

I’d love to know what you think about this. Have you consciously built contrast into your stories? Or do you have favorite examples from your reading? Feel free to share.

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If you’d like to stay in touch, sign up for my Reader’s List. Once a month, I share new middle grade fiction, story-related freebies, and/or related blog posts. If it’s not your thing, you can unsubscribe at any time.

 

 

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Tame Your Revision Step-by-Step: SLICE AND LABEL with Scrivener

tameyourrevision

Revising a novel is a form of bookkeeping. How do you keep from losing your mind? At The Winged Pen, we’re talking Revision. You can read the overview and download the infographic here.

To go along with the Winged Pen’s post, I’m attempting a “how-to” series. Let me know how you like it.

If you find yourself in a revision rut, may this jog your creative process back onto the smooth road.

If you’re not a Scrivener person, feel free to adapt to your tool of choice. There’s more than one way to slice and dice a manuscript! 🙂

Here’s how I SLICE AND LABEL in Scrivener:

  1. Select the chapter(s) or scene(s) I want to revise today. In the screenshot below, I’ve selected the chapter “A Delayed Party.”
  2. Duplicate the chapter folder including the scenes inside the folder and give it a new name. Scrivener just adds the word “copy” to the end of the name.
Screen shot of Scrivener menu, Documents--Duplicate--With subdocuments and unique title
How to duplicate files in Scrivener

3. Read through the chapter and see what’s happening. For example, “Conversation about goldfish.” Or “Transition to Castle.” I don’t make a judgement about whether its worthy to stay in the story. Just label and move on.

In the screenshot below, I’ve highlighted “Mamma had noticed!” as the beginning of a conversation about goldfish. Scrivener offers me the choice of “at Selection” or “with Selection as Title.”

Screenshot of Documents--Split--At selection
How to slice and dice your manuscript in Scrivener.

 

I choose “with Selection as title” and Scrivener creates a new text with the title “Mamma had noticed!” I can click on the label and change it to Conversation about goldfish if I want.

screen-shot-2017-02-28-at-9-29-23-am

4. Put like things together. Write new connections. Once all the pieces are labeled, it’s easy to see where you’ve covered the same thing twice. I lift out the pieces I want, leaving the throat-clearings and engine-startings behind. Add transitions if needed.

5. Merge everything together. Scrivener will put “A prank” and “Mamma had noticed!” together and label them “A prank.” You can change that after the merge by clicking on the name and typing over it.

Presto! A nice tight scene with all the ingredients you need to move your story forward.

Screenshot of Scrivener Documents--Merge. The selected files on the left are highlighted in blue.
How to merge the good stuff together again in Scrivener.

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If you’d like to stay in touch, sign up for my Reader’s List. Once a month, I recommend a new middle grade book, and share story-related freebies, and/or related blog posts. If it’s not your thing, you can unsubscribe at any time.

 

 

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Tools: Emotional Connection in Fiction Part 2

photo of compartments under the lid of a piano, paintboxes, brushes, sewing things
A piano with built-in toolboxes for sewing and putting on make-up. Andreas Landschütz, 1820. MAKK museum in Cologne. © Laurel Decher, 2017.

Last week I wrote about the challenges of making your reader feel the emotions of your main character. This week, the thrilling conclusion.

Challenging feedback doesn’t have to derail your writing. I’ve got tools for us. 🙂 Just don’t try to use the whole toolbox for every scene. That way lies ruin. *cough*

book cover for Karl Inglesias' Writing for Emotional ImpactKarl Iglesias’ Writing for Emotional Impact. There are SO many powerful tools in this book that you’re sure to find a way to add that zing.

Appetizer: Six techniques from this book with examples from Nancy Cavanaugh’s middle grade This Journal Belongs to Ratchet in this blog post. Download my infographic six ways to reveal character here.

Book cover for Mary Kole's Writing Irresistible KidlitMary Kole’s Writing Irresistible Kidlit. A variety of craft advice all in one place. It’s aimed at the children’s book author, but much of it is applicable to all fiction. Her Emotional Plot made me understand that story circumstances = emotion.

 

 

Book cover for The Emotion ThesaurusAngela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi’s The Emotion Thesaurus. This is the ultimate grocery store for thoughts, physical reactions, body language, and facial expressions. An excellent starting point to build in body language and thoughts that show the reaction your character is trying to hide from everyone else. Right after you let the reaction leak out, then you can show the character hide it.

Appetizer: Read more about how to use it at the Winged Pen.

 

book cover for K.M. Weiland's Structuring Your NovelK.M. Weiland’s Structuring Your Novel has the clearest explanation of how to construct character reactions I’ve seen. When readers internalize what the main character wants, they can identify with them. The clearest way to get emotion across is to show your character’s thinking.

Appetizer: My infographic based on K.M. Weiland’s book is here.

And there are two new recent books I haven’t read, but they are both on my wishlist! I’m promising myself one of them as a prize when I finish the revision of my WIP.

Book cover for Lisa Cron's Story GeniusLisa Kron’s Story Genius. On my wishlist.

Appetizer: Her downloadable “Top 11 Takeaways from Story Genius” here in exchange for your e-mail.Or listen to The Creative Penn podcast (or read the transcript): “Take Five with Lisa Cron.

 

 

book cover for Donald Maass's The Emotional Craft of FictionDonald Maass’s The Emotional Craft of Fiction. I heard him speak at a workshop once and I love his Writing the Breakout Novel workbook. He gives concrete advice. Inspiring.

Appetizer: Read an excerpt on Writer Unboxed.

 

 

Feeling overwhelmed? 😉

  1. Pick ONE thing to try and see if you like it.
  2. Follow Donald Maas’s advice: “Does it make your scene better? Then put it in.”
  3. Send it by your beta readers to test.
  4. Repeat.

Feeling any better about your manuscript? Let me know in the comments below. I’m always looking for new insights.

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If you’d like to stay in touch, sign up for my Reader’s List. Once a month, I recommend a new middle grade book, and share story-related freebies, and/or related blog posts. If it’s not your thing, you can unsubscribe at any time.

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Are you feeling it? Emotional Connection in Fiction Part 1

photo of compartments under the lid of a piano, paintboxes, brushes, sewing things
The perfect piano for a tiny house? This one has built-in toolboxes for sewing, painting and grooming. Andreas Landschütz, 1820. MAKK museum in Cologne. © Laurel Decher, 2017.

An accomplished novelist friend recently got feedback on a manuscript that was heartbreakingly familiar to me.

“I like it but I’m not loving it.”

Ouch. I know just how that feels.

For years, I worked on a manuscript that repeatedly got the critique that readers couldn’t connect with my main character’s emotions. The feedback was inexplicable and painful because I didn’t have any tools to address it with.

Over time, it started to feel like a personal attack. They were all after me. There was something wrong with me as a writer. I had the wrong feelings. Or I didn’t have feelings. Or I didn’t show them properly. Or something. You know the voices.

A brief non sequitor: getting obsessed with adverbs or gerunds or passive voice or what have you may lead to such controlled language that the emotion is beaten out of it. *cough*

A comment like “I like it but I don’t love it” can hurt so much. But they don’t have to. It might be time to let your story out to dance or skate or sing. Here are three mini-stories that helped me see emotional reactions in a whole new light.

 1. A musical interlude: One day in high school, I was practicing a piece of music in the empty band room and the band director walked through and tossed off a comment about playing with more feeling: “It’s okay. You must have just gotten that piece.”

I played a line or two again for him, putting my feelings into the music. He shook his head.

Puzzling.

My feelings were evidently wrong. But how can a person fix their feelings?

Now I realize he wasn’t asking me to feel the music. He wanted me to use technical skill to let the listener feel the music.

2. A skating interlude: Years ago, I read an autobiography of a couple whose skating pair routines moved audiences to tears. In My Sergei, Yekaterina Gordeyeva writes about the demands of creating an emotional experience for the audience. While performing, they were working far too hard to be feeling all mushy.

Look at all the technique to communicate emotion in this pairs skating routine. Or this one with a stronger female lead and lots of passion. Or this one based on Rodin’s The Kiss and skated by Gordeyeva and Grinkov.

(Thanks to Susan Gilbert-Collins for reminding me of the skaters’ names!)

3. Vanessa Van Edwards researched which TED talks go viral. She noticed that two excellent talks, released at the same time of year, found completely different success. One found a small audience and the other exploded.

Talks that went viral had LOTS more gestures than the ones that didn’t. The number of gestures are a measure of the speaker’s commitment to his or her topic and to the desire to communicate it to the audience.

They are also a measure of the speaker’s skill.

Gestures, body language, and words that match communicate much more.

Communicating emotion in a story is a skill. The novelist’s craft includes so many ways to move the reader: foreshadowing, characterization, story structure, dialogue, body language. So if you get this feedback, reach for your tools.

In next week’s post, I’ll recommend some brilliant toolboxes you’ll love.

What about you: Have you gotten feedback that stumped you for a while? How did you handle it? Or have you got favorite tools to add feelings to your WIP? Go ahead and share in the comments.

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If you’d like to stay in touch, sign up for my Reader’s List. Once a month, I recommend a new middle grade book, and share story-related freebies, and/or related blog posts. If it’s not your thing, you can unsubscribe at any time.

 

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An Aha! Moment via Joanna Penn: Publishing vs. Marketing

Joanna Penn is so smiley and enthusiastic and knowledgeable that she always gets me inspired. This webinar was no different.

Got a sudden insight from Joanna Penn’s webinar on goals for the new year (2017):
Marketing is what you do to SELL a book.
Packaging, editing, and categorizing are what you do to PUBLISH a book.

This is almost guaranteed to be obvious to everyone else. Why was this such an eyeopener for me? Once I saw the difference, I could break down the process into smaller tasks.

A few years in the query trenches makes the difference between writing and publishing crystal clear. My idea of publishing was fuzzy: it included everything from literary agents and editors to book reviews and book signings.

Marketing decides who the likeliest readers are and sets out to win them over. When you pick out comp titles for your book, you are choosing an audience with particular tastes.

Publishing MAKES the packaging (including some baked-in marketing):

  • edits the story
  • chooses the right categories and keywords.
  • writes a book description that ticks all the right notes.
  • designs a book cover that appeals to readers and matches what your story delivers.
  • chooses formats (audio, e-book, print) and distributors that reach the story’s audience.
  • tinkers with packaging later on if the book doesn’t find its audience

Marketing USES the packaging to attract readers with:

  • book reviews
  • ads and promotions
  • blog tours
  • social media
  • sales and offers

Rachel Aaron has a fascinating, detailed post on which marketing techniques work.

So now that we’ve gotten the difference between Writing, Publishing, and Marketing straight, we can go back to writing the next book. 😉 Because that’s the strongest Marketing* technique of all.

*If you want your work to be clear cut, take up something heroic, like logging with drafthorses.

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If you’d like to stay in touch, sign up for my Reader’s List. Once a month, I recommend a new middle grade book, and share story-related freebies, and/or related blog posts. If it’s not your thing, you can unsubscribe at any time.

 

Hero at the Bus Stop

Bronze of hero Garibaldi on horseback.
Who are the everyday heroes in your neighborhood? Image: Garibaldi on horseback. Palermo, Sicily. © Laurel Decher, 2017.

This year, my husband gave me a Page-a-Day calendar to learn Italian. Today’s page was a dialogue between two men at a bus stop, getting ready to go to work. One said his boss was nicer than his colleagues. The other said his colleagues were nicer than his boss. [*cough* We’re learning vocabulary here. Cut us some storytelling slack.]

My youngest went off to a new job today and I went along for the new, complicated, commute. At one bus stop, there was a woman dressed in lots of black fabric pushing a stroller with one little boy and holding another boy’s hand. They spoke a dialect I didn’t understand and the hand-holding boy was moaning. Tears were running down his face.

The littler boy in the stroller contorted himself to look up at the woman and got her to agree to something, reluctantly. He pushed the release button on the shoulder straps and jumped up out of the stroller.

He went all the way around in a way that made me–and his mother, who reached after him with her free hand–think he was going to end up in the street. But it wasn’t a ploy for freedom. He came up behind his moaning brother, smiled, and touched him on the shoulder.

The mother helped the bigger boy into the stroller and fastened the straps. The boy’s head still turned from side to side, and he was still moaning, but the tears stopped.

That’s when I realized the younger boy had given up his spot in the stroller for him. He seemed much too young to show such thoughtful and active compassion.

He gave me hope for the future. A person who can smile and help someone else will be an excellent colleague or boss.

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If you’d like to stay in touch, sign up for my Reader’s List. Once a month, I recommend a new middle grade book, and share story-related freebies, and/or related blog posts. If it’s not your thing, you can unsubscribe at any time.

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