Writer’s Conference: SCBWI NJ

I’ve been home from the SCBWI NJ conference exactly a week, and since it is a week that I’m not featuring an interview, I thought I’d talk a little about my recent trip to New Jersey. In fact, I kind of planned ahead to do this. I wrote the rest of this post a week ago on the plane flight home:

What a weekend! It started with a smooth flight  from Savannah to Philadelphia. You just can’t complain about a two hour direct flight on a new airplane even if the dude next to you thinks the space under your seat is big enough for your backpack, your legs, one of his legs too.

Me, Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen, and Ame Dyckman

So I got to Philly and was picked up by the fabulous nerdy chick Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen. We would be spending a lot of time together as roomies at the SCBWI NJ conference, during which time I would give 11 critiques and run three workshops. This actually left me little time for anything else! But as always, I met some wonderful people including super agent Scott Treimel, who asked me about my career, gave me advice, then asked why I wasn’t telling this to my agent instead of him. Um… because you asked me about my career, Scott! I also got to meet nerdy chick Ame Dyckman and honorary nerdy chick Dan Yaccarino.

I was so busy running my own workshops that I didn’t make  it to many others, so I thought I’d give you a glimpse of what I talked about here, especially because I went to the trouble to draw some sketches for my presentations!

The first workshop I led was called the Yin and Yang of Character Development and for that I designed this very cool logo:

The premise of the workshop is that your good characters have to have flaws and your bad characters have to have traits that endear us to them on some level. (Hence the frowny face in the yang zone and the happy face in the yin.)

My next workshop was called Tension in Revision. For this, I drew this  cute (I hope) little illustration to show how a writer needs to add tension to make a story interesting.

Think of this as a metaphor for your own writing! In order for Red-Riding Hood’s story to be interesting, she has to break rules, go through the woods and meet the wolf! In other words, your character’s emotional and physical journeys needs to be full of twists and turns that are reflected in plot, character development, dialogue, and setting. We talked about a ton of stuff!

Finally, I led a Chick-lit for Chicklets workshop with Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen. Here we discussed the essentials of writing chick lit for a girl audience. We discussed character traits your MC needs, who her supporting cast should be, how to write dialogue, and more. We distributed a Chick-lit for Chicklets Checklist. Here is the first question from our checklist:

Is your main character is a strong female who bucks authority to follow her dreams?  ___ yes ___no

If you answered yes to this question, you might be writing chick lit!

The weekend wrapped up with a speech from Kate DiCamillo, who shared five contradictoray statements about being a writer. I had to agree with all five… or maybe I disagreed with all five. I guess it depended on which part of the contradictory statement we were talking about.

A very blurry Kate DiCamillo gives her speech!

Kate’s contradictory advice:

  • Be absolutely rigid; Be loosey-goosey.
  • Write only for others; Write only for yourself.
  • Hide yourself; Reveal yourself.
  • Compromise; Never compromise.
  • Listen to what other people say; Don’t listen.

Of course she explained all of these contradictions, to a lot of head nodding. The bottom line, I think, is balance. Knowing when to wear which of the hats above.

All in all, it was a great conference. I loved meeting so many great writers: new writers with promising manuscripts, established writers contemplating genre changes, and those who’ve been writing in their comfort zone for years.  Thanks to Kathy Temean and her dedicated team of volunteers for hosting such a great event.

If you’d like to read a much more indepth version of what happened at the SCBWI NJ conference, head on over to Tara Lazar’s blog. She has featured several posts full of information!