Sunday, April 20, 2008

Words in the Woods: The YA Writers' Retreat

Cameraderie! At the SCBWI Carolinas Spring YA Retreat 24 YA writers and 3 editors enjoyed a weekend in the woods.

We spent two and a half days writing, reading, discussing, and critiquing our novels for teens and middle graders. It was great to be around people with the same passion and purpose. And I was impressed with the number of published book authors among us.

We stayed up ‘til midnight writing, and got up early for critiques with the editors. We read manuscripts in front of each other. (I, for one, was petrified). We chatted about literary awards over breakfast and lunch, and shared the ins and outs of publishing over chocolate and wine.

It was a relaxing yet busy time, and one of the best parts for me was the networking.

Comments like `Oh, I know someone you should talk to about that, I'll give you their email'...and `what I do when that happens to me is'... and `hey, you really ought to read this book - it will help with your plot and structure'... were common and extremely helpful throughout the weekend.

The editors and published writers shared their knowledge with us. (Some of these tips are paraphrased, and I hope that they won't mind me sharing them here).

Associate Editor Martha Mahalik gave us the much sought after definition of “voice” in novel writing: “Voice is the way you tell the story.” It’s the author’s style which stays the same from book to book (sentence structure, etc), combined with the way each of that author's books’ specific narrators tell their stories (including the narrator’s way of speaking, their impression of the main character, their world view…)

She said that “(Narrative) voice is the narrator’s layer of engaging opinion about the story they are telling.” Authors should 1. know who is telling your story (even if told in 3rd person or omnicient), and 2. know what they are trying to say.

Editor Krista Marino talked about “Point of View,” describing the different POV options and giving example books for many, including: First-person present (Book: Skin Deep) and first-person past (King Dork), third-person limited (The Giver) and Omnicient POV (The Penderlakes). She said she believes the author doesn’t choose the point of view for a particular story, but that a particular book's point of view "chooses you.”

The editors who joined us were Krista Marino (Editor, Delacorte), Martha Mahalik (Assoc. Editor Greenwillow Books), and Sarah Shumway, (Editor, Dutton)

Sarah Shumway outlined the business-side of writing in her presentation on “Pitch and Purpose.” She reminded us that we authors should not try to specifically create a book just because we think it will sell (--just because books about purple spiders, for example, might be popular right now). But that authors should instead write books that they feel a special internal need to write. Still, authors should also be able to explain to an editor why they are the best person in the world to write their current story, and why readers are likely to be interested in this book. There needs to be a selling point, so that one by one the author can convince the editor, the editor can convince the marketing people and publisher, the marketing people can convince the bookstore owners, and the bookstore owners can convince the reading public, that out of all the books on the shelves this is the one that they want to buy and read.

All three presentations were excellent and the retreat as a whole was great! Thanks planners! I learned a lot – and I even got some revising and researching done! Now we look forward to the SCBWI Fall Conference in Durham, NC, September 19th-21st. Hmmm. Can we all get our current drafts complete by then?


C.R. Evers said...

Great pictures Janelle! I had a great time too! And lots of good info to process as well.

I'm starting a series of blogs re: the retreat as well. Come by and take a peek when you get the chance.


Bish Denham said...

Wow Jenelle! What a wonderful opportunity you had! (don't you know I'm just a wee bit jealous!)