Monday, December 17, 2012

Musings on the SCBWI Fall Fest 2012 – Part 1-Setting & Point of View

This fall, my friend Debbie and I carpooled to the SCBWI Eastern PA's Fall Fest in Lancaster, PA. When my kids were younger, I always made time to arrange play dates for them, but my own play dates became fewer and farther between. Carpooling isn’t just a good way to save money on gas and tolls, it’s a great way to spend time with writing pals.
The event itself boasted an amazing faculty. A mix of authors, agents, and editors. But as with most things in life, we couldn’t “have it all.” We had to select workshops from a list. Because I write picture books and novels, I decided to take a smorgasbord approach, choosing workshops with different presenters and different focuses, and this turned out to be a good choice for me. For those of you who couldn’t attend, I’ll give a thumbnail sketch of the sessions I attended.

The cover of my conference folder
My first workshop was “A Look at Setting through the Eyes of Your Character” presented by novelist, Edie Hemingway. Edie reminded us that setting isn’t just the places and things that characters interact with in a physical way, although that’s part of it. Setting is also the details that set mood and reveal character. In some cases, the details may be literal, and in other cases metaphorical. She used the isolation of Katherine Paterson’s Newbery winner “Jacob Have I Loved” as one example of a metaphoric symbolic setting. Her handout has a huge flowchart that I will use as a writing checklist. Finally, we took time for a writing exercise—thinking about one of our own manuscripts and making a list of places where setting is (or could/should be!) important. I thought of four places where I wanted to insert more character observations in one of my middle grade novels. Thanks, Edie! The only negative during this session was that the room was freezing. In between making notes, I sat on my hands.

The second workshop I attended was picture book author Ann Bonwill's “Picture Book Point of View.” This workshop was in a warm room . Although the title of the workshop referenced picture books, and Ann used picture book examples to illustrate what she meant, the exercises she used would apply equally to all genres. Ann reminded us that one important part of point of view isn’t just thinking about first, second, third POV-- it’s deciding which character should be the main character to begin with. Who should tell the story? Perhaps a minor character needs a starring narrative role? She also talked about the form in which we write (prose, poetry, dialogue) and some of the advantages and disadvantages of different forms. We finished the session with exercises, rewriting familiar stories from a different point of view. During the exercise, I got excited by some of my ideas. The creative juices really started flowing! This exercise was a big help too when I got stuck at times during the PiBoIdMo challenge last month. I’ve realized that sometimes the character that comes into my mind first isn’t the best one to tell his/her/its story.

That was about half the Fall Fest day. Watch for Part 2 coming soon...

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