Paula Yoo spoke to a packed house of 42 people at the December meeting of the Westside Writers Schmooze. Tidbits of wisdom and insight came fast and furious as Paula shared her personal journey, her school visits presentation, and actual handouts from her course on children's writing at UCLA Extension--all in the space of 90 minutes!
Paula had her first book, "The Girl Called Raindrop," rejected by Harper when she was 6 years old. 30 years later, HarperCollins published Good Enough.
Pepper your presentation with questions when you speak to kids to keep them engaged.
Her journalism background was something she recommended highly - and challenged us to consider freelance articles as a way to hone our skills at: getting to the point, writing on deadline, and cutting for space - not valuing each word so highly.
The crux of any coming-of-age story--from Knuffle Bunny to Twilight--is defying parents' expectations and coming into your own.
In a picture book, these are the coming-of-age moments you focus on – dramatizing relationships with physical action. For example, in her latest nonfiction picture book, Shining Star: The Anna May Wong Story, instead of writing "Her father started supporting her," Paula wrote, "Her dad started driving her to her auditions"--which becomes a scene you can illustrate.
On Showing AND Telling, and Multiculturalism
Paula also talked about this being a major difference between picture books and writing for Young Adults. In a picture book, all coming-of-age moments must be shown, not told. The luxury of novels, on the other hand, is that you first show, THEN take a breath and tell what happened; show and tell, back and forth. In fact, the more specialized or "exotic" your subject is to the mainstream, the more you must tell.
Particularly fascinating was Paula's idea that "Show Don't Tell" is almost a mindset of the Majority. At our November Schmooze on Multiculturalism and Diversity in Children's Literature, Rita shared about not knowing for so long what ethnicity her main characters should "default" to. At this Schmooze, Paula revealed that, before Good Enough, her writing had always starred white male protagonists, since that was so much of the culture she had absorbed growing up in Connecticut.
From Paula's point of view, Showing AND Telling is all in the execution of the Voice. Look at those moments when your character is Telling, and ask yourself, is this a Voice you would be willing to be trapped sitting next to on a six hour bus trip to Vegas? (In writing first person, you CAN get away with more telling, but be careful the voice doesn’t get annoying!)
Paula was kind enough to share handouts from her UCLA class (If you attended the schmooze and didn't get a copy, email us at WestsideSchmooze@hotmail.com, and we'll get you one.)
She referenced Aaron Sorkin (who created the TV show West Wing, which Paula wrote for) in telling us,
"Intention + Obstacle = Conflict = STORY."
To demonstrate this principle at work, Paula analyzed the movie Die Hard to show us the plot point breakdown.
Then she did the same with Kevin Henkes's picture book, Kitten's First Full Moon!
On Writing Humor
Paula referenced this Web site as well as the idea of The Plant and Pay-Off.
She also offered three of her own rules for humor (her YA Good Enough is VERY funny!)
1. keep your word choice specific. Specificity IS humor.
2. in YA contemporary novels, you have to EARN your pop culture references
3. have jokes reveal character and push the story forward.
To top off the amazing evening, Paula dazzled us with a reading from her novel, and played her violin like a rock virtuoso!
All in all it was an inspiring author visit, and a fantastic end to our first year as co-Coordinators of the Westside Writers Schmooze.
There will be much more fabulousness to come in 2010, with our first meeting on January 13, when we'll discuss story openings and endings, and how the two need to "shake hands."
Also of interest, we mentioned the Ann Whitford Paul picture book writing workshops coming up and you can find out more about them here.
Have a Wonderful Holiday Season!
Your Schmooze Captains,
Rita Crayon Huang and Lee Wind
All photos by Rita Crayon Huang