Last weekend was WIK13 – Writing & Illustrating for Kids 2013. Attendees from Georgia, Alabama and the Florida Panhandle (along with others) gathered in Hoover, AL to learn, mingle and network.
The weekend kicked off with a writers’ intensive with author Matt de la Pena (Mexican Whiteboy, Ball Don’t Lie, etc.). I kicked myself for not signing up once I heard him speak on Saturday morning as the keynote speaker. He was relatable, funny and full of wisdom. Driving home that dreams can come true with hard work and steal from the world around you in creating the characters and events in your writing. While I did not attend his breakout session, I heard he hit another home run there!
I did attend What’s My Motivation, lead by Heather Alexander, Editor at Dial Books. She read from several MG and YA books to demonstrate the use of verbal and nonverbal clues that tell volumes about the character in the scene. Subtle gestures, internal dialogue and response to other characters helped paint a picture for the reader and gave us examples of where to strive for in our writing.
Through this session, I found that I could take my characters deeper and develop a richer canvas in my story. I also picked up on Ms. Alexander’s advice to go through my manuscript and re-read each sentence to see if it 1) revealed something about the character, 2) developed the world, or 3) drove the plot. I have already killed a few awkward sentences that did not add anything and altered others to deepen the scene or character.
The second session was lead by Jen Rofe’, an agent at Andrea Brown Literary, and was called The So What Factor. Jen brought her knowledge and energy to the topic and was able to cover a lot in the two-part session. Dissecting Dirty Dancing and The Great Gatsby scene by scene showed how characters with impact + compelling plot + connectivity = SO WHAT FACTOR. Creating an emotional response to our characters, putting them in impossible situations and connecting all the parts together will have the reader wanting to turn the page.
It was good to her state that the writer should drive their characters up a tree and throw rocks at them before helping them down. The protagonist in my story is always up a tree with rocks being thrown at him, but he always finds his way down (to the next tree) – truly validating!! I have also woven small points from the different parts in the story that come back to be important – woohoo again!
In retrospect, the sessions I chose were perfect for where I am and showed me that I am close to having a story I can be truly proud of. Tweaks are needed, scenes added/dropped and clearer character motivation will lead to a So What Factor worth reading.