Thursday, April 28, 2011

Preparing for a Writers Conference

I’m excited for the Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers Conference in June. (See for more details) In preparation, I’ve been madly working on a new YA story.

I’ll be taking a class by the fabulous Martine Leavitt. (She wrote Keturah and Lord Death, Heck Superhero, Dollmage, and many other award winning books.)

Each of the 13 members in her class will be submitting their first 20 pages in a few weeks. These pages will be critiqued in class, both by the teacher and class members. Martine was kind enough to give us a heads-up of what they’ll be looking for:

- Do we identify with the viewpoint character? Do we care about him or her?

- Is the reader allowed deep enough into the viewpoint character to know him or her?

- Do the secondary characters rise above stereotypes?

- Is the point of view consistent? Does the form fit the content?

- Is the setting well established?

- Is there a satisfactory balance between dialogue and narrative?

- Do we find figurative language? A distinct voice?

- Does the opening hook the reader?

- Do we know what the main character wants? Is there a plot trajectory?

- Is the conflict clear? Is it a conflict that matters?

- Does each scene advance the plot of reveal character?

As I've gone back and reworked (and reworked, and reworked) my first 20 pages, this has been a huge help. I basically have to take one question at a time. Also, my critiquing group has been amazing.

I can't wait for the conference to come, and I know there's so much to learn.

How have you prepared for a conference? Which teachers have been your favorites and why?


  1. Jonene, I'm so thrilled for you to be able to go to WIFYR. It is the best.

    I love the idea of a "plot trajectory." I'm going to write that on a note card and pin it to my tackboard.

  2. That is an awesome list, but I never thought about taking it one point at a time during revisions. *Smacks forehead* Great idea!

    And you all should check out Jonene's blog today. She has an awesome contest to give away a copy of her latest drawing of a Tahitian girl. Beautiful. Just click on the link in the side bar for The Wonderful Obsessions. :)

  3. Rebecca, I'm thrilled, too! I can't wait to learn more.

    Leisha, thanks a million!

  4. I guess I should answer your question. My favorite workshop was my first year at WIFYR when I had Brandon Sanderson for a teacher. He was amazing. He knew so much about writing, both the craft end and the business end. Up until that point I'd never met a real author, and all I knew about the publishing business was from people griping on the internet about how impossible it was to break in. Brandon Sanderson told us we could do it, and he told us how. It changed my whole perception of the game.

    To prepare for that workshop I was lucky enough that a friend of mine who had been an editing intern in college was willing to mark up my full manuscript. I revised it with her help and took it to the workshop, only to realize it was utterly unpublishable from page one anyways.

    That's okay. I started a new book on day two of the workshop.

  5. What a great list! The opening is so important, it's great you're getting a chance to workshop it. Good luck at the conference and let us know how it goes! :)

  6. Rebecca, oo, Brandon Sanderson - I'm envious! And there's a lot to be said for giving us poor writers a little hope. So sorry about your first manuscipt. (My first one didn't make it out either. It was hard then, but I'm so glad, now.) I'd love to hear about your second book! What is the title and what is it about?

  7. Susan, those first pages are a lulu, especially when you read brilliant ones, like in The Hunger Games. I didn't want to read it because it sounded too much like Lord of the Flies (which I hated - kids killing kids), and put it off until everyone I knew had read it and kept raving. I gave in and will be eternally grateful. It would be fun to know what steps she took to get her first twenty pages . . .

    And thanks! I'll let you know how the conference and workshopping goes!

  8. The book I started under Brandon Sanderson's tutelage is called EARTHCROSSER, and you can read the pitch here:

    It's been doing pretty well. I get full manuscript requests and agents and editors have said they'll look at revisions. I'll probably tackle it again once I get my latest book polished up and out of the house.

  9. That sounds like a fantastic conference! I've gone to many different kinds and those where we get to write and work to improve are my favorites. In fact I'm going to one like that this July in Oregon. Have fun!

  10. Definitely a good list of questions! I've met Brandon at a WorldCon (we've got a few friends in common) and he seemed like a nice, down to Earth kind of guy. Hard to say who my best teacher's been. Connie Willis is famous for her teaching, and rightly so. One of the exercises she did was to show us a movie and give us an ongoing narrative of each and every technique used (i.e. "reversal, raising the stakes, look, this scene has a second reversal"). I've had so many amazing teachers and colleagues, though, I can't really single out any one as the definitive best. I've seen Daniel Abraham nail down exactly how many words each scene will be before he even sits down to write, or S.M. Stirling write redraft after redraft after redraft in rapid succession (250 page writer's group submissions month after month). I've seen how immersed George RR Martin is in his worlds and how real the characters are for him.

    And, I've seen a ton of people who never broke in, and I guess they've been the best teachers in their own way. Things I've learned: The day your lack of success isn't your fault is the day your career is over (that's a Connie-ism, actually). Don't get bitter. Don't make excuses. Don't stop having fun. Write stories that you *have* to see published come what may, and then never give up on them.

  11. @Heather That Oregon Coast with Kris and Dean? Two writers with a very effective business strategy; I've met people who love their workshop and people who feel otherwise. Kris and I have swapped emails; she's a lovely woman.

  12. Rebecca, I just checked out EARTHCROSSER and read your first chapter. Very good! It reminded me a lot of SHIP BREAKER, by Paolo Bacigulupi, which I loved. You did a great job of creating the post-apocolyptic atmosphere, and I felt like I was right there with your MC as he climbed the tower, clanking and all. Wow! Great job!

    Heather, I went to just the afternoon sessions last year and was so impressed. I'm excited for the full workshop. I'd love to hear how yours goes in Oregon!

    Emily, isn't it amazing how some people have the most amazing way of opening your eyes? The more I learn about writing, the more impressed I am. It's such an art, and the people who write well and teach well blow me away! And you're so right. There are excuses and then there are true-blue writers, who do it, regardless.

  13. How exciting! Someday...someday...I will make it to a big conference. :-)

  14. Shannon, I am excited. I've gone to conferences before, but not the full-day workshop. Don't worry, your someday will come!

  15. Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!!!!!!! I can't go to wifyr. I'm not old enough this year. :(

    ...but that's ok, because I don't have anything good enough to take to a workshop yet anyway. But next year...

  16. Amber, it stinks that they have an age limit on it! I know another talented young person who would love to go. We might just have to put in our two cents worth. But I hope to see you next year!


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