Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Picture Book Word Smackdown Workshop

Recently, I was fortunate to attend two helpful events for writers.
The first was an in-person event held by the NJ SCBWI specifically for picture book writers. It’s hard to believe the next bit. 
It was led by the uber-talented Ame Dyckman, the author of Boy + Bot, and it was free!
Honestly, if you want to write kid lit and you aren’t already a member of the SCBWI, stop reading my blog post for a minute. I'll wait. Join the SCBWI. You can do it online. No, it isn’t free, but if you make the commitment to attend their events, you will get more than your money’s worth. I live in Pennsylvania and belong to the SCBWI of eastern PA but find that the events in New Jersey fit my schedule more often. I have friends with budgets that permit them to fly across the country or even to chapters on other continents, visiting SCBWI conferences to meet particular agents and editors. Doesn't that sound lovely? In the SCBWI, the world really is your oyster.

The subject of Ame’s ninety minute workshop was writing shorter. Now, I’m only five foot three inches tall so you might think I have an advantage here but durn, it wasn't that kind of shorter. The workshop pushed writers to cut their picture book word count; to make the work more marketable and also to make better picture books.
Now, I’ve heard these general words before. Several times. But that’s the beauty of going to workshop events. You never know which is going to be the one where things click for you. 
This one clicked!
The day after listening to Ame, I took a 511-word story that I hadn’t been able to make “zingy” enough and, without losing the heart of the story I wanted to tell, I revised (again!) and created a 349-word manuscript I was really proud of. I got that tingly feeling when the words are working and the story plays visually in my head. Is Ame magic? I guess you’d have to poll everyone else who attended to say for sure. I wouldn't bet against it.

A full book bag is a happy book bag
          What did I do after the workshop that really helped? With Ame’s advice about avoiding backstory and focusing on action, I went to the library (I should get a cot there). I copied the first lines from a stack of picture books I admired. I had read these words before, but for me the act of re-writing the words on a pad of paper helped me see the structure.
When I went back to my manuscript, I was ruthless. Lovely phrases that weren’t absolutely necessary to the story? Deleted. Next, I imagined what my perceptive illustrator would be able to include. I cut more.
Is any one workshop the answer to publication? Probably not. But it's a good step in the right direction. One thing I know for sure is that the world is full of talented writers and it isn’t enough to be good. The work needs to scream “publish me!”
I’ve prattled on long enough today. My second writing event was an online webinar on plotting held by Delve Writing. Look for my post on that upcoming.
One of my talented critique partners, MarcieColleen, posted about Ame’s workshop, too, and you can read her post here.


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  2. Yay! Sounds like it was amazingly inspiring and beneficial Wendy. I think Ame is the bees knees! :D

  3. I would have loved to have been there! Boy + Bot is so clever. Glad it helped you rewrite you ms tighter!

    1. Still fighting some story structure issues, but every step is one brick in the wall.

  4. When it clicks, it clicks! Well done. I find cutting SO difficult, but I have learned to bite the bullet and delete what was formerly perfection! GAH!

    1. Thanks, Genevieve. I am trying to keep eyes on the final target so the cuts don't seem as bad.