Saturday, February 27, 2010

Conference Notes 2010: Put Every Word on Trial for its Life!

It’s been one week since the fantastic SCBWI Houston conference that my fellow Cakers have been blogging about …

Lucky us, this year’s mix of editors/agent/author/art director came together to form pretty much the perfect storm of speakers on writing & illustrating for children.

A particular high point for me was Balzer & Bray assistant editor Ruta Rimas’ presentation on What Makes a Book Great. This speech was a timely reminder of how we as writers can analyze our writing & make it as effective as possible.

Ruta shared a quote by Francine Prose from the book Reading Like a Writer, in which Prose implores writers to “put each word on trial for its life”.

How do we do that, you ask?

Rimas started us out thinking microscopic, encouraging us to look at the individual words in a sentence (ask yourself which words stick out as successful, which support the overall theme of the story) – to a more general analysis of a specific sentence (Does it build up suspense? What does this sentence do structurally?) to poring over whole (or groups of) paragraphs – noticing how their flow makes the story “breathe”.

We were shown concrete examples of successful word choice/sentence &paragraph structure from classics like Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak and Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli. The excerpts Rimas chose proved how this kind of attention to detail can strengthen a story.

The idea is that this kind of careful analysis -- from the smallest unit (the individual word) to the largest (the paragraph or chapter) will create a purposeful rhythm in your story.
Your reader may not ever consciously notice this “rhythm” but it is part of what will keep them reading, curious, wanting (needing!) to know what happens next…

You can bet I’m taking Ruta’s advice & sticking it in my editorial ammunition pouch. As I pound out my current wip, I can promise that I will indeed put every word on trial for its life. If it's not necessary, it's outta there! NO MERCY!

Are you to the challenge too?
Thanks again to the awesome Vonna Carter for the conference pics!

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