I’m continuing to share highlights from the 2011 SCBWI Florida Regional Conference. I’ve already posted about some of the presentations in Part One Highlights. Now I’m going share some information from the workshops. There were several workshops to choose from and it’s a shame that I couldn’t attend them all.
One of the workshops I attended was “Opening Paragraphs that Pack a Punch” presented by Katherine Jacobs, an editor at Roaring Brook Press. In the workshop, we reviewed opening paragraphs from novels such as Feed by MT Anderson, The Giver by Lois Lowry as well as adult novels such as The Posionwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver.
All of these opening paragraphs had at least one or more of the following qualities that made them work according to editor Katherine Jacobs:
- Concept or Hook
- Setting or Place
- Anticipation or Foreshadowing
We were then asked to craft our own opening paragraph, and I was amazed at what some of the writers came up with. SCBWI Florida definitely has a nestful of talent.
I also attended a workshop led by Sarah Davies, “From Ordinary to Extraordinary: The Art of Creating a Great, Saleable Story.” I had already heard some nice things about this agent and now that I’ve had a chance to meet her and hear her speak, I must say she is a class act.
During the workshop she challenged us to make an extraordinary story and that all extraordinary stories have high stakes. Sarah Davies described herself as a “midwife to writers” and shared during the workshop some of the following gems:
“All protagonists must deal with the impact of their choices.
Writing is an emotional response to the world not intellectual thinking.
A writer’s vocation is deeply set in the chaos of being human. Writers must get order and meaning to create a unique story framework.
An extraordinary story has a great beginning — a build up to something. A strong sense of place. Landscape of character. Voice with language that has color and cadence. Every word is necessary and focused.
A good novel will have readers finding out more about themselves as they do about the characters.”
What I also found interesting is what Sarah Davies says she sees in her submissions. She sees too many of the following scenarios in opening pages: characters waking up, characters dressing for school, characters moving to a new town, characters at the airport, and characters getting into a car crash.
The Greenhouse Literary Agency can get up to 70 submissions a day. Sarah Davies shared some reasons why she rejects work:
- Confusing writing
- Superficial writing
- Writing in manuscript is trying too hard
- Too many adverbs and adjectives — overwritten
- Idea is not fresh enough
- Weak writing
- Lack of a focused “What if?”
But the biggest reason that she rejects work is because the novel doesn’t engage her emotionally.
One thing that I’ve noticed at this conference and other recent conferences that I’ve attended is the agent message of “Take Your Time.” The consensus is that you make your work as strong as it can be before submitting.
I’ve also noticed more “open-ended” submission deadlines offered by agents, which I believe can be a win-win for both the writer and agent. Writers can take their time to get their work right and agents possibly don’t get inundated with manuscript submissions after presenting at a conference.
So that’s it for my highlights from the SCBWI Florida Regional Conference. I hope you found these posts helpful. :)