Some fellow Pennies and I recently attended the New England SCBWI Conference. New England’s is the largest SCBWI regional conference; this year there were 699 attendees. Despite its size, the conference had the feel of a family reunion, punctuated with many shrieks of recognition and tackle hugs. When individual members were honored with awards, the collective joy and pride in the room was palpable.
In addition to the good feelings, the conference was filled with fantastic advice. I had many epiphanies, and found myself furiously scribbling so as not to lose these pearls of wisdom. It turns out my fellow Pennies were doing the same (as was honorary Pennie Wendy Leiserson, whose awesome sign is above). Here is what we took away.
Rebecca Podos: Maximize every small moment in your story. Every single choice your character makes contributes to us understanding them.
Jarrett J. Korsoczka: Remember to be bored! This sparks creativity.
AC Gaughen: An antagonist is just someone opposing your main character, and in your story they cannot complete the arc of change.
Jen Malone on School Visits: Make a 3-5 minute YouTube video of you presenting to schools and make sure you have link of this on your website and on your flyers. This way teachers and administrators get to see you in action!
Jarrett J. Krosoczka: Don’t do a $50 job like it’s a $50 job. Do it like it’s a $500 job or you’ll always get $50 jobs.
Patrick Carman: You need to be as bold with building your audience as you are with writing your book.
Aubrey Poole: If your MC could accomplish their goal without changing, then why didn’t they do it on page one?
Jo Knowles: Try filling in these blanks for your work in progress: This is a story about a girl/boy who wants _______________. But underneath that, it’s really about a girl/boy who wants _______________. Then go further: underneath that, what does s/he want? And underneath that? Keeping asking this question—quickly, without thinking too much about it—until you go five levels deep, until you get the “sad chills.” This is the emotional core. This is what will make your readers love and root for your character.
Jo Knowles on how you know when your work in progress is done: It’s when the journey the character goes through is ultimately satisfying—true, in all senses of the word, but especially emotionally.
Jarrett Krosoczka: Make magic. Preserve wonder.
And here are mine.
Anna Staniszewski: To keep your character from sounding whiny, give him a goal, something to work toward.
Tricia Leaver: Empty your character’s pockets. What a character chooses to carry at all times has meaning and significance to them. What’s covering the walls of her room? Know this, even if it doesn’t enter the story.
Patrick Carmen: Collaborate. Helping someone else’s dream come true can lead you to something you never dreamed of.
Wendy Mass: There are downsides to this career, but the roller coaster goes up when you least expect it.
Katharine Manning lives in D.C., but was happy to return to her Smithie roots for this conference. She is a middle grade writer and mom of three. You can find her on Twitter or at www.katharinemanning.com. She pushes books on people at Kid Book List.