We gathered once more, excited about the new year ahead, and went around the giant circle during introductions, asking everyone what was the last book they finished, and what was the emotion they felt when they finished.
Here's a taste of what people said:
It was a great exercise, and got everyone thinking about what their story leaves readers feeling...
We also reviewed a lot of the great things coming up, including:
The SCBWI Winter Conference (you can still register!)
The Conference Blog
Here's the twitter hashtag to follow SCBWI Team Blog Conference Tweets:
Greg Pincus' upcoming workshop "Unleashing The Power Of Social Media for Writers and Illustrators" March 6, 2010
SCBWI-LA Writers Day April 10th,
OC Spring Writer's Retreat March 26-28,
And so much more! (Check out the Calendar of SCBWI SoCal events here!)
We also reminded everyone that the SCBWI.org website has wonderful resources about formatting, query letters, and [lots of answers to newbie questions!] other frequently asked questions under the heading "Just Getting Started?"
Some of our favorite tips from that publicly viewable section include:
10 FAQs About Children's Book Publishing--such as whether or not to copyright before you send your work out
From Keyboard to Printed Page--for questions on formatting
Types of Publishers--a quick explanation of (you guessed it!) the different types of publishers that exist
From the Editor's Desk--This is a really lovely overview by editor Beverly Horowitz which goes over many of the above answers (it's always helpful to hear answers given again!) plus many more, such as whether an author and illustrator can submit work as a team.
Then we jumped into it:
We reviewed our ideas on opening lines from a year ago January:
A first line is a promise to the reader about what kind of book this is going to be. It sets an expectation about:
Tone / Voice / Mood
Main Character —in most cases, though not all—
Intrigue – would you read on?
Once again, we brought up the classic example from Charlotte’s Web:
"Where's Papa going with that axe?" said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast.
- A child, Fern, is speaking.
There’s a comfortable, domestic, probably farm-y setting
- It's morning.
- There are at least three people present at the beginning of the story
- The story begins in the third person
Certain Themes are promised:
LIFE and DEATH (“Murder!!”)
INNOCENCE vs. REALITY
Click here to read more about last January 2009's schmooze on opening lines!
Openings also set expectations for what kind of ending we can hope for.
In this case, we start out worried about this pig’s life, and that worry turns out to be a central concern of the book.
By the time we get to the end, the promised theme of Life and Death has also been delivered in other, less expected ways.
On the subject of Endings, we shared some choice quotes, like this one from :
Donald Maass's book, "Writing The Breakout Novel Workbook" (pp. 160-162)
“Whether it is a sigh of satisfaction, a soaring passage of word art, or nothing more than a clever exit line, put the same effort into your last line as went into your first. A book needs front and back covers to hold together, in the same way a novel needs strong brackets to bind it."
Rita shared that she's always believed it’s impossible to write a book’s “true” beginning until you know the story’s end and everything that happens in-between. You almost write it last.
We shared Darcy Pattison's tips about tone and connecting the beginning and the end.
And also some advice on endings culled from the LiveJournal blog of Children’s Book Author Dori H Butler
You can read her full, two-part post on Endings here and here. They're packed with insight!
We also talked about the distinction between the climax and the ending of your story, sharing info from these additional sites, covering Circular endings, and twist/surprise endings.
Excerpt from “Powerful Endings”
As an example of foiling expectations, Rita shared a favorite song she and her brother used to sing on the playground, when they were kids.
“I wish I were a little fish,
I wish I were a bass.
I’d climb up on a great big hill
and slide down on my hands and knees!”
And a post on 3 types of novel endings.
Entertaining debates broke out throughout the night on such topics as, What makes an ending "preachy," anyway? (After all, aren't all stories where good triumphs over evil in any way, inherently moral? Is it a matter of authors setting out to "fix" children? Is it a matter of Showing vs. Telling? Voice?)
And, Can a story EVER end with "It was all a dream?"
We also did some great writing exercises. Join in now if you want to play along at home:
This was an adaptation of the exercise we did last January on opening lines (also from "Writing the breakout novel workbook" by Donald Maass):
What is the intrigue factor in your opening [scene]? What question does it pose, or what puzzle does it present? Write that down.
[Adaptation:] How is this answered, or echoed, in the final scene, and/or how do the two contrast? What internal and external changes have taken place? In other words, how do the beginning and end relate?
Was it obvious from the beginning this was where the story would go? (It’s okay if the answer is yes.)
If readers knew [or could predict] the ending in advance, would they still want to know how the story got there?
Another activity we recommended everyone do was open up some of their favorite books and read the first and last chapters together, back to back, to see for themselves how those openings and endings worked together. What changed? What elements stayed the same? Were there any techniques the author used, to underscore Change or bring home the final feeling?
As an example, Rita shared that Linda Sue Park once suggested she liked setting her endings in the same location where her stories opened, almost as a subconscious way of bringing her stories around.
It was easier throughout this Schmooze to discuss picture books, though we also managed to discuss a few middle grade and YA examples--and major motion pictures--without giving THOSE endings away!
Books everyone shared and discussed throughout the night:
Grumpy Bird, by Jeremy Tankard (picture book)
A Visitor For Bear , by Bonny Becker, ill. by Kady MacDonald Denton (picture book)
Magic Treehouse (series) by Mary Pope Osborn
How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight? by Jane Yolen, ill. by Mark Teague
Thank You, Bear, by Greg Foley (picture book)
Impulse, by Ellen Hopkins (young adult)
Green Wilma, by Tedd Arnold (picture book)
Knuffle Bunny, by Mo Willems (picture book)
How the Grinch Stole Christmas, by Dr. Seuss (picture book)
Don't Fidget A Feather, by Erica Silverman (picture book)
When You Reach Me, by Rebecca Stead (young adult)
A Single Shard, by Linda Sue Park (middle grade)
Diary of a Wimpy Kid, by Jeff Kinney (middle grade)
In a Blue Room, Jim Averbeck, ill. by Tricia Tusa. (picture book)
Ugly Fish, by Kara LaReau, ill. by Scott Magoon (picture book)
And here are several more titles we didn't have time to share. Look these up, if you like, as further examples of beginnings and endings to think about, as well as any other titles you like:
Tuesday, by David Wiesner (picture book)
Every Friday, by Dan Yaccarino (picture book)
What Will Fat Cat Sit On? by Jan Thomas (picture book)
Don’t Let The Pigeon Drive the Bus, by Mo Willems (picture book)
Orange Pear Apple Bear, by Emily Gravett (picture book)
Duck Soup, by Jackie Urbanovic (picture book)
Kitten’s First Full Moon, by Kevin Henkes (picture book)
Frindle, by Andrew Clements (middle grade)
And these books on writing: Donald Maass' Writing The Breakout Novel Workbook
Christopher Vogler, The Writer's Journey, pages. 223-227 (on endings, rewards and punishment)
As well as some quotes from Robert McKee and this William Golding quote that's worth thinking about:
"the key to all story endings is to give the audience what it wants, but not the way it expects."
We ended the evening with a read-aloud from the last few pages of our opening example, Charlotte’s Web. (and just to make things feel circular, here's that cover image again!)
All in all, it was a great Schmooze--one where we all learned so much from each other!
Please come join us for our next schmooze, February 10, 2010 on Self-Publishing!
Self-Publishing - What's The Real Deal?
Print on Demand. The Expresso Book Machine. E-books. Come hear from some real life authors who have gone down the road of self-publishing. We'll talk about the pros and cons, and if the shifting landscape of publishing has changed the "traditional" view of self-published books. After all, if Cheryl Klein, an editor at Arthur A. Levine books, chooses to self-publish a book of her own speeches rather than take it the traditional publishing route, is there really any stigma left?
Is self-publishing a viable option for you and the Picture Book, Middle Grade, or Young Adult novel you're writing? Come discuss it with us!
Your Schmooze Co-Captains,
Rita & Lee