Let’s dive right into Part Two, shall we?
Following lunch, the dynamic Melissa Manlove, Editor at Chronicle Books stepped up to the stage and treated us to a talk about reading first pages like a pro. In the first page, editors can see how effective your use of language is. To read like an editor, she emphasized the importance of close reading, which is very different than reading for pleasure. When you close read something, you break down to elements and look at the construction of a story; you see what really makes it work.
For example, in the first page of Kate Messner’s OVER AND UNDER THE SNOW, the word choices not only dictate the cadence of the story, they evoke the mood of winter. See here in the very first lines:
Over the snow I glide. Into the woods, frosted fresh and white.
Over the snow, a flash of fur – a red squirrel disappears down a crack.
The end of the first line becomes a bit of a tongue twister, which slows you down as you read. The images of frosted and fresh and white evoke the wintery mood. Melissa mentioned that Messner also purposely chose words that together would mimic the feel of skis moving along the snow. THAT is paying attention to what works on more than one level in your story. And that is all just in the first line!
When discussing a good use of rhyme, Melissa gave the example of Liz Garton Scanlon’s book ALL THE WORLD. There is a great deal of cadence and structure, which is repeated. The author is showing she knows what she’s doing with structure in these first stanzas and it shows.
Rock, stone, pebble, sand,
Body, shoulder, arm, hand,
A moat to dig, a shell to keep –
All the world is large and deep.
Hive, bee, wings, hum,
Husk, cob, corn, yum,
Tomato blossom, fruit so red –
All the world’s a garden bed.
This is a goodnight book and in these type of stories, you want structure with a calming flow. Melissa went on to say that one of the reasons that many editors beg off rhyming manuscripts at the behest of their therapists is because most manuscripts they see only bother with rhyming the very last words in a line. While syntax is importance, it’s tough to make it sound natural if you don’t make it work in context with the entire story and take the overall RHYTHM of the story into account as well.
Melissa also said that mastering these skills, like all other skills, takes practice. Hoping to get it write like a bolt out of the blue isn’t the greatest plan. Writers may have to come up with a thousand mediocre ideas before they find that one great story. Then she said something that struck a chord with everyone:
Your brain is a machine made for generating ideas. Inspiration can feel electric, but lightning doesn’t strike the person laying in a sunny field, it strikes the person habitually cranking at the generator.
(Thank you to Gayleen Rabakukk for helping with the accuracy of that quote.)
There were so many other things she shared that were fantastic, I could blather on all day her talk alone. I suggest doing some close reading and practice writing of your own.
Melissa’s book recommendations: OVER AND UNDER THE SNOW by Kate Messner, CARNIVORES by Aaron Reynolds, ALL THE WORLD by Liz Garton Scanlon, SKIPPYJON JONES by Judy Schachner, IT’S A TIGER by David LaRochelle, GOODNIGHT GOODNIGHT CONSTRUCTION SITE by Sherri Duskey Rinker, ON A BEAM OF LIGHT by Jennifer Berne, and SWAN by Laurel Snyder (Fall release 2014)
Follow Melissa on Twitter.
Next up was the vivacious Kristin Miller-Vincent, Associate Agent, D4EO Literary Agency who talked about how to keep it fresh, get it fresh, and deliver it fresh. (Sounds like a pizza delivery commercial when I say like that. She was much more eloquent.)
Fresh is hard to define. “We don’t know what it is, but we know it when we see it.”
So how can you bring fresh ideas to your stories?
- Engage with the world and find truths that would make great fiction – find inspiration in the unusual things you come across that fascinate you. She gave an example of a strange statistic about the number of people hospitalized each year while taking down their Christmas trees in the nude.
- Figure out what ISN’T actually out there – in pitch for the book, THE EIGHTH DAY, it was described as there is a secret eighth day of the week, sandwiched between Wednesday and Thursday, with roots tracing back to Aurthrian legend.
- Put a new spin on an old tale – reimagine a fairy tale or tell an old story from a different point of view. CINDER is a cyborg Cinderella story set in outerspace.
Those are just a few ideas as far as the plot are concerned, but what about voice?
Fresh voices are created are when authors know their characters well enough that they can let go of their own egos and let their characters use them as a vessel to tell the story.
Don’t get in the way of your narrative voice.
(Another speaker suggestion for delving deep into your characters – I’m sensing a theme.)
Kristin ended with discussing the critical mindset. You should welcome criticism and also be critical of your own work. Continue to question and wonder about ideas and the world around you.
There’s no room for complacency in publishing! You can do it!
Kristin’s book recommendations: PETE THE CAT by Eric Litwin, THIS IS NOT MY HAT by Jon Klassen, THE GIRL OF FIRE AND THORNS by Rae Carson, THE EIGHTH DAY by Diane K Salerni, CINDER by Marissa Meyer, SCARLET by A.C. Gaughen.
Follow Kristin on Twitter.
Our final speaker of the day was Liza Kaplan, Editor with Philomel Books, Penguin Group and she talked to us about tension.
A novel thrives on tension and drama, but the thing that makes a novel un-put-downable is the TENSION.
There are different types of tension:
DRAMATIC – those filled with situational difficulties, the most general tensions, romantical “will they or won’t they?” tensions
ENVIRONMENTAL – throughout the story the reader wonders if the character will survive. ex: BETWEEN SHADES OF GREY
WORLD-BUILDING – use of a forcible task or inescapable danger, very literally life and death situations. ex: HUNGER GAMES
THEMATIC – universal issues like love, freedom, free will, life and death, fighting for love at the cost of life. ex: 13 REASONS WHY
You should vary your use of the types of tension within your story. Remember that two opposing forces prolong uncertainty and delay resolution to keep up the tension. The faster we get to a resolution of a problem, the more comfort we feel. Make your readers wait for the resolution.
But tension isn’t the only thing needed for a great story. The stakes have to matter; the main character has to risk something big. And the higher, more demanding the stakes, the more tension you create.
Your novel should be like an emotional roller coaster. Your job is to be an emotional manipulator to your readers.
What helps create a visceral reading experience is making the reader care. If your character has stakes where s/she is personally invested, so will your reader.
Liza’s book recommendations: THE FIFTH WAVE by Rick Yancey, ELEANOR & PARK by Rainbow Rowell, BEAUTY QUEENS by Libba Bray, WONDER by R. J. Palacio, THE BOOK THIEF by Markus Zusak, AMELIA ANN IS DEAD AND GONE by Kat Rosenfield, 13 REASONS WHY by Jay Asher, HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins, BETWEEN SHADES OF GREY by Ruta Sepetys
Follow Liza on Twitter.
After our brains were full to bursting with information, we wrapped things up with an informal dinner at a local barbecue place where everyone could unwind and mingle. Here are a few pictures from the end of the day. It was such a fantastic conference. I can’t wait for the next one.