Fan That Spark OK SCBWI Fall Retreat – The Recap Part I

 

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Our Fall Retreat for Oklahoma SCBWI last month had something for everyone, with specific tracks for novel, illustration, and picture book that allowed you to focus on your area of interest. The theme “Fan the Spark” encouraged all to turn those beginning creative sparks into fully developed stories.

I attended the Novel Track.

(I heard rave reviews from everyone I spoke with who attended both the Picture Book Track taught by Janee Trasler, and the Illustrator Track taught by Tim Jessell.)

The first speaker had a background in theatre arts and showed us how writers could learn from actors when developing their characters. She also stopped by this blog prior to the retreat to introduce herself. Click on this link to get a more detailed view into her background..

Ginny SainGinny Sain – with more than 20 years experience as a working director, choreographer, playwright, theatrical designer, performer , and theatre arts teacher, she has worked as an artist in residence teaching theatre arts workshops in Arkansas and Oklahoma schools as well as teaching and directing all classes, workshops, and productions for over 18 years with the very successful Stages Theatre for Youth program.

“Generality is the enemy of all art.” – Stanislavski

When creating your characters, you want to move from the general to the specific.

How?

By paying attention to the inner lives and motivations of your characters in every scene. And this should be done FOR EVERY CHARACTER.

When an actor prepares for a new role, they get to know their character intimately – what motivates them, how they move about in space, what they like and don’t like – they slip into their character’s skin to portray them in a believable manner. The actor inhabits every inch of that character’s psyche. And they do this before they even step foot onto the stage.

This can feel like a daunting task. Impossible even.

So how do they do it?

They break down the play into moments – or beats – and figure out what’s driving their character’s behavior from moment to moment. Beats are manageable chunks even smaller than scenes. Some obvious beats include when a character enters or exits a scene or when there’s a shift in conversation, or when new information has been revealed. Once the beats are identified, the actors then decide what the character’s objective, obstacle, and action is for each beat.

Objective – What your character wants. Each character has one main “superobjective” that spans the entire work and many smaller objectives that lead toward the “superobjective”. The path a character takes as they move through these smaller objectives is called the “through line”. Each character should have an objective for every beat they are on stage. The objective should be active and directed toward the other characters.  Objectives seek to change things.

Example: “I want to get away from him and leave this room.”

Obstacle – What is keeping your character from getting what they want. Obstacles can be internal or external. Or both. This struggle is what makes the story interesting.

Example: “I can’t leave because he locked the door.”

Action – What your character does to overcome his or her obstacle. There are usually three possible outcomes: the character will give up, overcome the obstacle, or plow through and ignore it. How they react to obstacles shows what characters are made of – reactions reveal a lot about character.

Example: “I jump out the window.”

Focusing on what each character wants as you write each moment – which may be completely opposite/opposing things – can make for much more interesting writing.

Learn more about Ginny by visiting her website: HeARTsong Creative Center.

 

The next speaker was no stranger to our OK SCBWI group or to the previous speaker (being her mother). She gave a talk about how to write emotion into your story without crossing the line into sentimentality.

AnnaMyersphotoCAnna Myers – This award-winning Oklahoma author has published 20 books to much critical acclaim. She has won the Oklahoma Book Award four times for SPY!ASSASSINGRAVEYARD GIRL, and RED DIRT JESSIE. She was also awarded their lifetime achievement, the Arrell Gibson Award, in 2012. She writes historical and contemporary fiction for young readers. She also had her first picture book, TUMBLEWEED BABY, published in 2014. Most importantly, she was our Oklahoma SCBWI Regional Advisor and fearless leader for 14 years.

Anna’s talk focused on helping us see the difference between emotion and schmaltz, the Yiddish word for sentimentality or literally, chicken fat.

“Novels aren’t real life. They need to be sharper.”

Emotion needs to be stronger.

Yet, this doesn’t mean readers want to see characters spill their guts out when grieving. Crying is too easy.

SCHMALTZ! Cut it!

It’s the struggle that’s most interesting. Readers want to see how characters deal with problems – this is where the emotional connection lies.

So, what can you do to show this?

Think of an action to show the emotion.

Anna gave the example of John F. Kennedy’s assassination. This was a devastating time for the entire country. And yet, the most moving image wasn’t of a widow grieving, it was of his young son saluting his casket.

Photo credit: Stan Stearns/UPI
Photo credit: Stan Stearns/UPI

 

This would not have been as touching if he’d been crying. This is utterly heart-breaking. We feel the loss so much stronger. (While researching, I also learned that this picture was taken on John Jr.’s birthday. Seriously. Where’s the kleenex?)

Of course, tears do have their place, but don’t rely on them, or any other bodily expression, as a crutch for showing your character’s emotion. Focus more on that action that expresses their sorrow.

Learn more about Anna by visiting her website: www.annamyers.info

 

The next speaker lead us through a visualization exercise to help us overcome blocks in our creative process.

Pati Hailey PicPati Hailey – Over her career, Pati has written state legislation, online training for large corporations, lesson plans for teachers, and literature for children and adults. She is a frequent speaker at conferences and schools. Pati’s articles have appeared in newspapers and magazines, including Cricket and Hopscotch. Her contribution to this series, TE ATA: Oklahoma Cultural Treasure, is her first published children’s book.

I always find these visualization exercises helpful and I always learn something surprising about my manuscript or my character. Pati walks us through a simple relaxation before taking us through the visualization exercise. During the visualization, we are to focus on a part of our manuscript that is giving us trouble and look at it from a different perspective, paying attention to surroundings in more detail, and thinking about our characters in different ways, even asking them specific questions.

These visualizations allow your brain to relax enough to use your subconscious and solve story problems. You can try these on your own, too. While writing, think about getting up every 30 minutes or so to give your subconscious time to work on any story problems you might have.

Follow Pati on Twitter @PatiHailey

Follow Pati on Facebook here.

 

After lunch, we had a First Pages Critique Panel

 

 

The wise Panel Members: Anna Myers, Tammi Sauer, and Sonia Gensler share their insights.
The wise Panel Members Anna Myers, Tammi Sauer, and Sonia Gensler share their insights. (Photo credit: Regina Garvie)

 

a Speaker Autograph Party

Autograph Party 1
Some of our fantastic speakers signing their books. (Photo credit: Regina Garvie)

 

and then dinner…

We took over the Rock Café in Stroud. (Photo credit: THE Jerry Bennet)
Many of our group took over the Rock Café in Stroud. (Photo credit: THE Jerry Bennet.)

 

…before the final event of the day.

The Inspirational Keynote from LINDA URBAN! YAY!!!

LindaUrbanLinda Urban – Linda writes picture books and middle grade novels from subjects as varied as an angry mouse expressing emotion (MOUSE WAS MAD), a red-headed boy searching for independence (LITTLE RED HENRY), a girl who dreams of playing pianos only to end up with a wheezy organ (A CROOKED KIND OF PERFECT), and a girl who tries to fix a horrible mistake with a birthday wish (THE CENTER OF EVERYTHING). Urban’s characters are written with so much heart, yours will burst while reading about them.

Linda encouraged us to be open to inspiration and new ideas throughout the weekend.

She told us the story about when she first felt that spark, that joy from writing. She put her heart on the page and loved that feeling. Then one day the good feeling stopped. A boy called her writing weird, and said she was weird. She felt horrible and stopped writing for a long time.

When she came back to writing, it was a slow, painful process. Once she let herself find that spark again, that feeling of joy, she needed to define the “spine” of her work. “Why do I do it?”

For her, she wants to write about small things that matter to kids in a big way.

“All I need to be successful is to be true to my spine.”

What is YOUR spine?

Inspiration in spades!

Learn more about Linda by visiting her website: lindaurbanbooks.com

 

Stay tuned for The Recap PART II to read all about what Linda Urban had to teach us during the revision intensive on Day Two!

 

Interview with Ginny Sain – Actor, Writer, Celebrator of Boundless Imagination

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We’ve been getting to know some of the faculty for our upcoming 2015 OK SCBWI “Fan the Spark” Fall Retreat through a series of Twitter Chats and now, right here on this blog.

Today, Ginny Sain stops by for an interview. As a faculty member of the Novel Track for the Fall Retreat, Ginny will share drama techniques to help writers with character development. Below, she’ll enlighten us on how acting and writing are more alike than one might think.

About Ginny

Ginny graduated summa cum laude from the University of the Ozarks in Clarksville, Arkansas, in 1995 with a degree in theatre.  She has worked as an artist in residence teaching theatre arts workshops in Arkansas and Oklahoma schools as well as teaching and directing all classes, workshops, and productions for over 18 years with the very successful Stages Theatre for Youth program, an intensive actor training program for serious and dedicated young theatre artists in grades K-12, which she founded at the University of the Ozarks, where she also worked with college theatre students.

With more than 20 years of experience as a working director, choreographer, playwright, theatrical designer, performer, and theatre arts teacher, Ginny is thrilled to be back in Oklahoma as one of the founders of HeARTsong Creative Center, a creative and performing arts organization dedicated to providing professional quality arts programs and events that will encourage people of all ages to explore the depths of their souls, stretch the limits of their possibilities, celebrate the boundlessness of their own imaginations, and recognize the value of hard work paired with creativity.

 

The Interview

Ginny SainValerie Lawson: You grew up in a very literary household, and yet you chose the theatre. What about that medium called to you?

Ginny Sain: Oscar Wilde said, “I regard the theatre as the greatest of all art forms, the most immediate way in which a human being can share with another the sense of what it is to be a human being.”

I’ve always believe that. I’ve always been drawn to the immediacy and intimacy of communication that you get in the theatre – both with your fellow artistic collaborators, and especially with the audience.

VL: I love that – thinking of your audience as part of the art.

In the realm of theatre arts, you have been a teacher, director, choreographer, actor, playwright, etc., what aspect of the field do you enjoy the most?

GS: I love to act, but what I am most passionate about is teaching and directing young people who are serious about developing as theatre artists. I spent 20 years working with one amazing group of kids, taking many of them literally from kindergarten through high school graduation, and watching them grow and develop as artists, and as people from year to year.

The kind of theatre we were able to do together because of that, and the kind of community they built with each other – that was such a huge thing to be a part of, for them and for me. So many of them are out there doing amazing things now. No matter what else I do with my life I will always consider those students to be the most special thing I have ever been a part of, my greatest contribution to the world.

VL: That kind of continuity is rare, I would imagine. So fantastic!

How would you say that acting and writing are related? What can a writer learn from the theatre arts?

GS: For writers and actors, it’s all about developing real, honest, believable characters and bringing them to life for an audience. Both art forms are about creating something so real that, just for a little bit, people forget that those characters don’t exist.

In the theatre, we do a lot of character analysis work that I think would be very beneficial to writers. We learn to think about the whole life of the character, not just the aspects that figure directly into the story. We build a whole world and we spend time living there. For an actor, the key is asking questions and then, instead of deciding on an answer ourselves, letting the character answer those questions for us. And I think actors tend to ask those questions in a slightly different way than writers do. It’s a really interesting process that actors have.

VL: Yes! Let the character answer the questions. Wonderful.

For the Oklahoma SCBWI Fall Retreat this October, you are co-hosting the Novel Track with your mother, author Anna Myers, how will you be contributing to the workshop?

GS: I’ll be talking specifically about the character developement process we use in the theatre, and how writers can adapt that for their own work. I’m really excited about that. Hopefully, it will cause people to view their characters from a slightly different perspective.

VL: I’m so curious about this different perspective; I can’t wait to discover this new way of looking at my characters.

Tell us a little about your teen years growing up. What was the most embarrassing thing you experienced? What was the most memorable adventure you had with your friends?

GS: Well, you know my mother is going to read this, so……my friends and I spent most of our time just sitting around reading poetry and behaving ourselves.  Lol.  Honestly, my friends were theatre kids and show choir kids. And I grew up in a very small town. Our idea of adventure was, I’m sure by most standards, pretty tame. We were in rehearsal for one thing or another a lot of the time, and those were the best times I remember.

VL: Ha! Well, it was worth a shot. Actually, my daughter might read this, so…yes! That’s all good theatre kids should do – rehearse and read poetry.

What has been your favorite book to read/book you’ve been most excited about over the past year?

GS: I’ve been reading a lot of young adult books this last year.  I really enjoyed John Green’s “Looking for Alaska.” Like I said earlier, I’ve spent almost half my life working with teenagers, and I love them. And the voices in that particular book rang as so authentic to me.

VL: I have heard that you yourself are working on writing a novel, tell us about your experience. What have you learned about writing? About yourself as an artist?

GS: I am working on a book – a young adult novel set in the world of the theatre. Since that’s the world I know best, that seemed like a good place to start. I guess the main thing I’ve learned is that I really enjoy writing. I’ve been told my whole life that I had some ability as a writer, but I never really thought it was something that I enjoyed particularly. Theatre is such a collaborative art form. Writing always seemed to me to be such a solitary process, and that just never really appealed to me. But, I’m beginning to understand that isn’t really true.

VL: Ha! Yes, it may take one writer to draft a novel, but it takes a village to raise it.

You and your sister started your own creative arts center a few years ago, what can you tell us about that project

GS: I’ve always been a director and teacher, and my sister is a licensed teacher. She’s taught in schools in Oklahoma, Texas, and in Malta. So, when I was looking for a change, it just seemed kind of natural that we should combine those things into one joint creative venture. We offer theatre and other creative classes for students of all ages. Most of our work is done in after-school programs at local schools. It’s something we both enjoy and it gives us a lot of flexibility in the projects we work on, which is something that was important to both of us, since we are also raising children and pursuing other interests. It’s been a hard process getting it off the ground, but we’re finally making some good progress.

VL: You have an excellent program. I know my daughter enjoyed taking acting lessons from you. She learned more about her personal strengths and weaknesses as an actor – and how to improve – from you than her own drama teacher. I wish you well in that venture!

Thank you so much for sharing your time with us, Ginny. I look forward to your presentation at the retreat next month!

There are still a few spots available for our Fall Retreat. If you would like to hear Ginny speak, along with our other faculty members, sign up, today! This is an event you won’t want to miss!

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Visit the scbwiok.org website for more details and to register online.

TweetAnd don’t miss the next Twitter Chat on September 22nd, from 7-8pm CST, when we chat with picture book author Janee Trasler. Use the hashtag #okscbwichat. Hope to see you there!