Friday, July 8, 2011

Sturdy Structure and Peppy Pacing

Of course, when I actually sat down to prepare the FOUR talks I have to give as the facilitator/leader of the SCBWI writing retreat this weekend, it was much less daunting than it had seemed earlier. I found quite lovely outlines for previously given talks in my file helpfully labeled TALKS, and added some new material to draw on things I've learned through writing some of my more recent books, and made a handout, and now I'm packed and ready to go.

Some presenters at events like this draw on examples from other people's books to illustrate various points in their talks. That is certainly a very generous approach and allows them to focus on the very best examples of what we should be doing as writers. But I'm going to take the route of focusing on examples from my own books, not because I think they're so great - they're not - but because I know exactly how and why I made those creative choices, often after having made much less successful previous creative choices and now having to correct them. Perhaps self-servingly, I've decided that anybody can sit down and read wonderful books and marvel at how wonderful they are. What's most fun for me, as an attendee of talks, is hearing how the person presenting figured out what she was going to do in her book, and why. I could listen forever to authors discuss, not how to write generally, but their own creative process specifically, and then distill lessons from it to apply in my own case.

So I'll talk about One Square Inch, and how hard how I had to work to make Cooper active rather than reactive in the face of his mother's mental illness, how I had to eliminate entire characters to make his situation more urgent, shorten the time frame of the novel to increase dramatic tension, switch from third person to first person to add immediacy and directness, and change the ending in which I - an author of over 40 published books - actually made the most egregious error possible of having the central truth at the heart of the book not discovered by Cooper himself but delivered to him by an adult authority.

I may not be an expert on Writing with a capital W, but I AM an expert on "Mistakes Made Quite Recently by Claudia Mills and How You Can Avoid Making These Mistakes in Your Own Writing."

So that's the heart of what I'll have to share with the retreat attendees this weekend in Colorado Springs.

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