craft tips

Using Psychological Principles to Plot Your Characters

by Brooke McIntyre

Author Jessica Bayliss worked as a psychologist for years before beginning to write in her spare time. As her writing projects grew into novels, she discovered that the same principles she used as a therapist helped her more deeply understand her characters. At the May Professional Series, Bayliss explained the core model she uses as a psychologist, and how writers can use that model to write more believable characters.

Our stories include both an action plot–what is happening in the character’s external world– and an emotional plot–what is happening to the character internally. The Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) model relates the two. In the CBT model, a character has thoughts about their particular situation. Their thoughts generate emotions. Their emotions, in turn, drive behavior.

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Novel Writing: Soup to Nuts

by Lauren Shapiro

Perhaps because Stacey Barney was formerly an English teacher, her presentation seemed to flow from a lesson plan on successful novel writing at the Tuesday night SCBWI Metro NY Professional Series.

Ms. Barney says there are only seven stories she’s been told – Overcoming the Monster; Rags to Riches; The Quest; Voyage and Return; Comedy; Tragedy and Rebirth – and the writer’s challenge is to make these stories feel fresh. Her advice on how to do that is, “Voice is always the first place to start. If the voice isn’t working, nothing else is. Establish the voice right away. Voice is paramount and character is a close second. Character and voice go hand in hand.” There are many things she can help with as an editor, but “I can’t give an author a voice.”

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Pixels to Platform: Marketing for Creative People

by Divya Chand

“Author Platform” is a phrase that is often heard but seldom understood. It generates an unlimited number of questions for all writers. Luckily for the crowd at the SCBWI Metro NY Professional Series, Pixels to Platform, Gabriela Pereira was on hand to answer those questions and demystify the core tenants of any successful author platform.

Gabriela Pereira is an MFA graduate from the New School and the founder of diymfa.com, a website that provides authors of all stages a place to delve deeper into the “how to” of writing  and “gain knowledge without the college””. While undercover as a graduate student, she learned the inside scoop on MFA programs, invented a slew of writing tools all her own, and developed a new, more effective way for writers to learn their craft.

On Tuesday, Gabriela shared her knowledge and showed the crowd the building blocks of a strong and successful platform. She shared with us the basic purpose of a platform as well the ABCs of creating one. Per Gabriela, the platform is a marketing structure meant to the connect the author with the readers and the fan base.

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

by Adria Quiñones

“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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What Makes a Good Portfolio

By Sabina Hahn

The SCBWI Tuesday Night Professional Series wrapped up 2016 with Nicole de las Heras and Maria Mondugno speaking to an enthusiastic audience about what makes a good portfolio.

Nicole de las Heras loves pairing the right artist with the right manuscript and collaborating with artist and editor. She has lots of opportunities to do this as an Art Director at Random House Children’s Books, where she oversees board books, picture books, leveled readers, and early chapter books. Emily Winfield Martin, LeUyen Pham, Brigette Barrager, Josie Portillo, Ruth Sanderson, and Mike Boldt are among the artists she has worked with. Another thing she loves about her job is finding new talent.

As soon as she could write her name, Maria Modugno got her first library card. A lifelong reader, she worked at a number of publishers before joining Random House in 2012 to specialize in picture books. The books she has edited include The Napping House and stories about Toot and Puddle, Pinkalicious, and Splat the Cat. She avoids acquiring too-long picture books and tests potential acquisitions with an egg timer.

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First Pages with Heather Flaherty and Maggie Lehrman

By Orel Protopopescu

Heather Flaherty, a Literary Agent at the Bent Agency, and Maggie Lehrman, a Senior Editor at Abrams Books for Young Readers, (as well as a YA novelist) addressed a rapt crowd at the Huntington Public Library on October 16, 2016 as part of SCBWI Metro NY’s On-the-Road series.   Rapidly making their way through a pile of first pages, ranging from picture books to YA fiction, they were in remarkable accord, zeroing in on what made (or detracted from) an opening that worked.  Published writers and beginners benefited from their expertise.

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We Need Diverse Books: Diverse Sci-Fi/Fantasy Authors Panel with WNDB

By Leah Heilman Schanke

Jennifer Baker, panel organizer for We Need Diverse Books (WNDB) and 2013 winner of the SCBWI On-the-Verge Emerging Voices Award, led a panel discussion on craft and world-building. She asked whether outlining played a role in establishing the rules of the world and fantastical elements. Do you outline or not?

Heidi Heilig, author of The Girl from Everywhere, said she outlined a little, then wrote, then outlined again, going back and forth. She shared that her musical theater background provided training in setting rules that it’s okay to have singing in a scene. She had to have rules for her novel to put restrictions on characters’ powers, otherwise all powerful characters would be boring. “It’s good to know where the boundaries are and to play with them.”

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A Practical Guide To World-Building

by Adria Quiñones

FullSizeRenderHenry Neff, author/illustrator of The Tapestry series of contemporary MG fantasy novels and our guide to world-building, began the October Professional Series lecture with an intriguing fact: J.R.R. Tolkien created the languages of Middle Earth before he imagined the world. “The invention of languages is the foundation,” Tolkien wrote. “The ‘stories’ were made rather to provide a world for the languages than the reverse. To me a name comes first and the story follows.”

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Crafting a Dynamic Character

by Gae Polisner

Kelsey MurphyEditorial Assistant Kelsey Murphy of Balzer & Bray led a wonderful workshop at the SCBWILI on Saturday April 13, at the Huntington Public Library on Long Island. The workshop was on “Crafting a Dynamic Character.”

Ms. Murphy provided a four-pronged outline on how to craft dynamic characters, explaining that, to draw in readers – and prospective agents and editors! – realistic characters (1) must have a want, (2) must change, (3) must be emotional and reactive, and (4) must be specific (not stereotypical or clichéd).

Using examples from both participants’ own two-minute writing exercises prepared on the spot, as well as from well-loved picture books and works of young adult and middle grade fiction, Ms. Murphy walked the audience through each prong of character building, helping us to see how it is done, and why each prong matters.

“A character will change, while still being that character at the core.”

Always coming back to prong one, that a character must have wants in order for the reader to connect—and to build plot—at the outset of a story, Ms. Murphy explained that a writer should even know the wants of her secondary characters: “A character that wants for nothing is dull.” She explained physical wants versus emotional wants, active and overarching wants to build characters from the ground up—and to view their personal history through these statements of want.

Elaborating that showing, not telling, the history leading to those wants is key to a well-told story, Ms. Murphy stated: “A character with a want has power and will encounter conflict either in pursuit or in lack of pursuit of the desire itself . . . and the backgrounds to those wants give the book momentum and energize the story.”

Carrying these precepts over to picture book writing, Ms. Murphy shared that simplicity of focus in picture books matters. At the core of a picture book, there should be one central idea “blown out” via repetition or exploration or upending of classic tropes—bringing them to a funny or unusual setting, while the simple want of the story remains clear. “She wants a frog!” Ms. Murphy exclaimed, alluding to one of her favorite picture books her house has recently acquired.

Following the workshop, Ms. Murphy generously fielded an audience Q&A session and took writers’ individual questions.

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Gae Polisner is the award-winning author of THE SUMMER OF LETTING GO and THE PULL OF GRAVITY (fsg/Frances Foster Books). She lives on Long Island with her husband, two sons, and a suspiciously-fictional looking dog she swore she’d never own. When she’s not writing, she can be found in her wetsuit in the open waters off the Long Island Sound.