September 7, 2012, Friday
This year I volunteered to help out with the retreat, so although registration started at noon, I decided to leave early. My friend Lucy carpooled with me and we arrived in Encino at around 10:30 AM. The traffic wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be, so it gave us time to relax and scope out the place.
Sarah and Marilyn arrived half an hour later, and Lucy and I helped them unload their cars and set up each room for the retreat.
Attendees soon began to trickle in. They got their keys from Marilyn at the Registration desk and went to get settled in their own rooms.
Holy Spirit Retreat Center rooms, Encino, CA
The writing retreat officially started at around 1. Sarah and Lee, SCBWI-L.A. Regional Advisers and super organizers, went through the schedule with us. They’d thoughtfully printed out copies of our individual schedules and placed it in our I.D.’s.
Sarah and Lee showing us the schedule print out
They also encouraged us to set our goals for the weekend. Once we had written them down, they introduced our esteemed faculty members.
Attendees setting down their goals for the weekend
Our teachers for the weekend included two agents, one editor and two prolific authors. They each introduced themselves and gave us tips on how to revise our manuscripts.
Aside from giving us revision and editing techniques, the faculty also discussed plot and voice at length. They also explained what they look for in the books they read.
Here are some of the tips they shared with us:
Agent Jill Corcoran, Herman Literary Agency
* If I read a manuscript, and keep on reading long into the night. Or if I wake up in the morning, and I still remember the story I read, I know it’s a god one.
* There are three types of voices: writing voice, manuscript voice, and character voice.
* You, as an author, choose the writing and character voice. You can select different combinations of voice to use–dark and funny, sad and funny, etc
Agent Abigail Samoun, Red Fox Literary Agency
* I usually can tell in the first two sentences if a story’s going to work. I look for an intriguing opening paragraph and a character that I want to be with.
* Narrative voice can be very important. The story has to be pleasing to read, respective of language, and pleasing to read.
* Plot can be tricky and intimidating. A story needs to have tension. To add tension to your story, be your hero’s worst enemy. Figure out how you can be mean to your protagonist, and how you can get them into more trouble.
Editor Heather Alexander, Dial Books
* Plot, character, world–these are things your story is describing. These are the things that make your book as a whole.
* Look through ever sentence, and ask if they’re developing plot, character or world. If not they’re not, change it.
*Each paragraph should be a balance of at least two of these elements, if not all three.
* Voice can trump everything sometimes.
* Opening sentences can say a lot about the world. Don’t ever start with the character waking up.
Judy Enderle, author of many children’s books (Picture Books to Young Adult)
* Author’s voice refers to the way you put your words together–your word choice and the flow of words
* Character’s voice is the way your character expresses herself or her background
* Be aware of what your writing style is. Maybe repetition is a particular character’s tag line.
Stephanie Gordon, author of many children’s books (Picture Books to Young Adult)
* You have to fine tune your manuscripts before you query. Comb through your manuscripts and look for Redundancies (ex. pointy thorns) and be aware of using too many verbs or adjectives (ex. The ogre snarled and sounded angry)
The Faculty Panel
As in last year’s retreat, the attendees were divided into two major groups: The Best Sellers and the Award Winners. I was part of the Award Winners group this year, which meant that immediately after our panel on revision, I had to proceed to our assigned room for the first critique session.
There were four of us in the group and we were all fairly nervous since our first session was with Agent Jill Corcoran. Jill gave us some tough love and helped us see what we needed to improve in our first chapters. I made notes of Jill’s suggestions and mulled over the revisions I needed to make during the hour long break after our first session.
The retreat center’s bell rang at 5:30, announcing the start of dinner. I waited for my roomie EJ, since we had to share one key for our room (normally we get two, but the previous participant forgot to return the key). We discussed how our first sessions went as we headed to the dining hall.
I had just enough time to brush my teeth and grab my things for the next critique session with agent Abigail Samoun. I read chapter two for Abigail, and was lucky because she remembered my story from last March, when I had opted for a chapter 1 critique at the OC Agent’s Day. She asked me a lot of good questions regarding the story, and gave me some tips to lift the chapter to a higher level.
The hour long critique passed quickly enough, but Day 1 of the Writing Retreat was far from over. I had an hour to revise or relax in the room, while my roomie EJ was out for her critique session. I opted to spend the time unpacking and taking notes.
At 9 PM, Fitness guru Lynette began the much needed Stretching session. She taught us several stretching exercises which we could do on our own, after long hours of sitting and writing.
Stretching with Lynette
The stretching certainly helped us release the tension we’d been holding the whole day. We headed back to the main Lakeside Hall for the Wine and Cheese Social, for a much needed “winding/ wining down” session.
Claudia, Judy and Edie enjoying some wine at the end of the day
A variety of cheeses and crackers were provided for us to sample, along with bottles of wine and sparkling cider (for those who don’t want to drink).
Cheese platter at the Wine & Cheese Social
The social was a great way to meet new friends and catch up with old ones. It was also a fitting way to end the long day of writing.
Writers mingling at the Wine and Cheese Social
Stay tuned next week for the continuation of my SCBWI Working Writers Retreat write up.
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