Wednesday, June 9, 2010

SCBWI FL Mid-Year Workshop Part 2

As promised, here are my notes from the Novel Intensive, featuring Kathleen Duey, Alvina Ling from Little, Brown, and Stephanie Owens Lurie from Disney/Hyperion.

It was amazing and inspiring. Hopefully, I can convey some of that to you, but I would like to encourage you to attend a writer's conference near you if you can at all afford to. Even just being around other writers is inspiring and freeing. No one at a writers conference will think you're weird when you talk about your characters like they're real people. ;)

The first topic the Thrilling Three covered was Character.

Alvina Ling – Character is Voice, Beliefs, and Experiences. You need to know these things about your character.

Kathleen Duey – To get a character to talk to you, try interviewing him/her. Not one of those questionnaires, but a conversation. Type a question and let the character answer you. She said it feels strange, but if it works for you, it will change your world. J

  • Try to get out of your character's way.
  • Get to your art and your craft will take you the rest of the way.
  • There are no rules except you want to write your book in such a way that people can't put it down.
  • Get out of your writing cave and observe children. She recommends mall food courts. You can hear kids talking when they don't think anyone is listening.
  • Character is the spine of everything.
  • (When talking about characters talking to the writer and doing unexpected things) All writing is paranormal. (I love this.)
  • Try writing from your secondary characters' POVs to get to know them and their motivation better.

Then we had a writing exercise to introduce a character in half a page or less. Both Alvina and Stephanie read examples of strong character introductions aloud. Then some volunteers read their introductions (written on the spot). What I got from this exercise is that a great character is distinct and interesting. The more the reader is pulled into the character's head, the better. Stephanie said she wants to either feel she IS the character or that she COULD BE the character.

*They liked my character introduction, which was a new story I've been thinking about. I guess I should start that one, huh?*

Next was Setting.

Kathleen Duey – Be careful to stay in viewpoint when describing setting (if you're in first person, the character isn't going to describe his room when he enters it. He already knows what his room looks like.)

  • Tiny details can be more interesting and telling.
  • Spend time on things the reader will not assume.
  • Magic has to be flawed in and of itself. There has to be a kryptonite (Superman wouldn't have been interesting if he could conquer everything).
Stephanie Lurie – Avoid vampires or werewolves.

  • Right now, apocalyptic/dystopian is hot.
  • Next is angels (mostly fallen).
  • She sees a lot of girls who died and are coming back.
  • She needs more MG (standalone or series). *yay*
Alvina Ling – Would love a sci fi (more space opera than dystopian).

Regarding Plot – Kathleen Duey – There is no magic formula (or if it exists, you don't want it).

The Thrilling Three also read first pages and queries.

Kathleen Duey – In queries and synopses, try not to name anyone but the MC because you'll be compelled to describe them. Do that with two or three side characters, and you've added an unnecessary paragraph. She recommended leaving other names off completely at first (use BFF or the like), and then add names if they are necessary. She also said in a synopsis, to tell both plot and emotional arcs.

Alvina Ling and Stephanie Lurie said that in a query, social networking is of interest (blog, twitter, etc), but conference attendance not necessary. They like "Readers of _____ will enjoy my book." But make sure the titles are current, in the same genre, and not blockbusters.

Alvina said she's looking for something familiar but fresh.

Stephanie said if you can give her the one-sentence pitch, the query summary (like jacket copy), and a great synopsis, she'll love it. She needs all three to acquire your book.

As a final note, Kathleen said that it's the subtle things that make a book believable or not.

So there are my notes from Friday. I hope you find some of that helpful. Tell me in the comments what your favorite nugget is!

And don't forget to enter my GIVEAWAY!

Here are a couple of friends' blog posts from the conference. You should follow them! J

Karen Strong


See you on Friday with my notes from the Picture Book Track and my critiques!



  1. Great recap Larissa. Sigh, too bad we don't have another conference to go to this weekend. :(.

    And yes! You should definitely start that story idea -- your character intro was interesting!

  2. Thanks, Karen!

    I know! If only we could spend every weekend going to conferences. I loved your recap, too!

  3. I couldn't agree more that character is voice. I had this discussion with people before and no one seemed to get it. Some excellent advice in these notes. Thanks for sharing! I personally can't "write for the market" (IE--this is hot). I write the story that my characters want to tell. That's me personally. Plus, but time I finish a book, query it, find and agent, and then a publishing house, what is "in" could have come full circle again. I agree on the setting details and interesting characters. Again, great post!

  4. Thanks so much, Rebecca! I can't write for the market, either. :)

  5. Great information and tips! Thanks so much for sharing. I really like the tips about setting--I seem to forget to work on that sometimes because I get too wrapped up in the characters.

  6. So jealous. And I wish I would have heard the tip about leaving out character names other than the MC in your query. I learned that the hard way: LOTS and LOTS of query drafts.

  7. More great, great stuff. I'm afraid that writing about space is WAY out of my league but I'm loving your notes.