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Speak Up, I Can’t Hear You: Writing Voice With Kat Brzozowski

“Voice” is one of those elements of writing that gets talked about—or at least mentioned—frequently, but often the discussion doesn’t seem to go much further than noting that it’s important. What do we mean by voice? How do you create it, much less improve it?

Luckily for us, NY Metro SCBWI’s January Professional Series event featured Kat Brzozowski, an editor at Macmillan’s Swoon Reads/Feiwel & Friends imprints, who gave us the opportunity to analyze the choices that affect voice and to experiment with them in our own writing. The atmosphere was more like a writing seminar than a lecture, as audience members sat in a circle and engaged in a back-and-forth discussion of voice, both in well-known works and in scenes that attendees created on the spot.

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The Voices in Your Head: A Look at How Characters Drive Stories with Marietta Zacker

By Leah Heilman Schanke
“Voice is easier to talk about than to execute,” said Marietta Zacker, Agent at Nancy Gallt Literary Agency. Books on writing say a story cannot be character-driven and plot-driven, but Zacker disagrees, “The magic comes when you have a character-driven story, and infuse a plot that works. The character is the main driving force but also reacting to events.”

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Opening Lines With Richard Peck

Originally Published: June 2014

by Lauren Shapiro

It feels a bit like a revivalist tent show, as Richard Peck preaches the gospel that “you’re only as good as your opening line. Our readers do not read reviews or catalog copy and do not use the internet for examining publishers offerings. Our sales are the first lines. Is there a perfect opening line, yes, but it’s been used,” he says, with perfect timing.

“The first line needs to be a grenade. The story has to begin before you start. The story is already going, pulling out of the station and the reader runs to get on board. Do not begin little did I know when I woke up that morning or we were walking up the stairs when, or it was a little town where nothing ever happened. Francine Prose’sAfter doesn’t start with gunfire; it starts after the gunfire. E. B. White’s matchless first line of Charlotte’s Web is “Where’s Papa going with that axe?”  You don’t give your readers time to think on the first page.” (more…)

The Anatomy Of A Picture Book

Originally Published: May 2014

by Ellen Raskin

THE ANATOMY OF A PICTURE BOOK was the title of Julia Sooy’s talk given on May 17, 2014, in Tarrytown. Her presentation was part of the traveling SCWBI Roadshow. Sooy, an Assistant to Laura Godwin, Acquiring Editor and Publisher at Henry Holt Books for Young Readers, explained details of the craft of the picture book.

She also shared her experience and knowledge of the practicalities of publishing picture books from the editorial stance, offering the theme “Picture Books by the Numbers”.

Following are important points she made. (more…)

Harold Underdown On Craft: Sharpening Your Re-Vision

Originally Published: April 2014

by Leah Heilman Schanke

Harold UnderdownOn April 8, Harold Underdown began his presentation by introducing the importance of Reader Response Theory in writing and editing children’s books. The theory focuses on the reader’s experience. While editors and writers also have a response, they primarily analyze plot, characters, setting, etc. But what happens when a child reads? It’s simply the response. The response differs individually because of what each reader brings to the story.

Underdown stated that Reader Response Theory is “every bit as important as what literary critics do in analyzing what a story means and how the writer accomplished it.” Underdown demonstrated by reading an excerpt of The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats without showing the illustrations. The response was the feeling of wonder and excitement. Underdown pointed out that the illustrations were not needed to “fall into [the character’s] story.” (more…)

Lin Oliver: Hearth Plus Humor Equals Comedy

Originally Published: February 2014

by Kristi Olson

Writers and illustrators who have attended a SCBWI national conference already know that Lin Oliver is one funny lady. The New York Metro Chapter was thrilled to welcome her to a Professional Series lecture, on the heels of another successful SCBWI Annual Winter Conference. (more…)

Man On Wire: The Importance Of Narrative Tension

Originally Published: February 2014

by K. Marcus

seanmcarthyMAN ON WIRE, the documentary about Philippe Petit’s high-wire walk between the Twin Towers in 1974 was used by Sean McCarthy, owner of the Sean McCarthy Literary Agency, as a metaphor for planning and creating narrative tension in the manuscript.

McCarthy focused on the manuscript’s first three chapters as those are read by agents and editors. This was a presentation from the traveling SCBWI Roadshow in Tarrytown on February 8, 2014.

Petit took 5 years to plan his high-wire walk.  While McCarthy is not suggesting authors and illustrators take that long, he did stress that preplanning plotting, pacing, external/internal conflict, motivation, stakes and character development is more favorable “than forcing it in later.”  In the first three chapters, it is necessary to “lay hints and groundwork for those reveals later on.”  There should be “one conflict at the beginning and it should be resolved at the end.” (more…)