Friday, September 4, 2009

And for the end, I go out with a BANG (or, a writing recipe for everyone's palette)

Don't get your hopes up: I'm not actually going anywhere. But my SCBWI notes are. As in, I've reached the in. This is the last one, and then I'm going all Disney and sticking them in the vault (i.e., the blog archive). I think this is a goodie, so I hope you all enjoy it as much as I did!

SARAH DAVIES—A Recipe for Writing the Breakout Novel: 5 Ingredients for Success

Agent at Greenhouse Literary Agency
-Specializes in children’s/teens literature. Greatest specialty is MG/tween/YA (submission guidelines are on the website)

-She is a lover of language—language has shaped her life.
-She considers her work to be her vocation and can’t think of anything she’d rather do than help others achieve success.

How do turn a dull story into a gripping one =
-explore characters
-strengthen your premise
-work on your plot

The breakout novel = the one that keeps people up reading at night and enables you to go on writing as a career.

Publishers make 90% of their revenue on 10% of their books. This 10% is greatly depended on and helps pay for everything else; it gives the house its name.

In the book world, an agent must feel passion about your project.
-There is always room (on her list) for something that is wonderful and ignites her heart. There is “always time for a shiny nugget.”
-She’s looking for a voice that shines out of her, even if the plot is rough. But, take a lot of care with your work before sending it out (i.e., only send it out when you feel it is as good as you can make it).


1) Your work must be unique; you must have an inspired concept
-Know the market, but write only what you can write.
-If there’s a story you want to read that hasn’t been written, write it.
-Domestic/paranormal = about 80% of what she sees. You need a really fresh twist to make yours stand out.
-USP = "unique selling point" of your story; the strong, fresh idea with real commercial appeal
-**Your concept should be developed before you start writing. Don't write until you have a really clever pitch (clever pitch = only a couple of sentences) that you can articulate efficiently.
-Think big. Be prepared to research. Sometimes a concept can go a very long way to selling a story in the marketplace.
-->Example of a high concept idea = Princess for Hire by Lindsey Leavitt
-BUT ... concept alone isn’t enough. You also need great writing.
-->E.g., Jay Asher's 13 Reasons Why is more than a sad story; it’s like a thriller with the tension increased due to the short passage of time.

2) Principal characters must be vivid and true and must leap off the page.
-**Know your principal characters and their back story so well that they reveal themselves as you go along. You shouldn’t have to stop to do this as you write.
-Q: What were the journeys your characters took to get them here?
-Developing your principal characters before you write helps to show, not tell. It avoids info dumps about characters in the main character’s world.
-"Let your characters develop themselves in whispers." -- e.g., Valerie Patterson – Another State of Blue
-The sole purpose of description is to reveal character. -- e.g., What do your character’s torn jeans, or the way they push back their hair, tell you about them?
-Character is revealed by conflict and dynamic, all of which have to move us toward a revelation at the end of the story.

-Dialogue can’t be flat.
-People don’t use long, carefully crafted sentences when they talk.
-90% of people’s sentences are self-interested.
-What is unsaid is at least as important as what is actually said.
-**The external of conversation needs to reflect the internal agenda of your characters.

3) Tell a high stakes story
-High stakes = where the characters have a lot to win or lose; a story with a twist in the tail.
-Q: What do your characters stand to win/lose? Work these wins/losses so that they escalate, building tension toward the end.
--> E.g., Valerie Patterson’s Another State of Blue
--> E.g., Tender Morsels—explores the evil and sweetness of the world; the cost of living in a world where evil doesn’t exist, and why we need both, despite how hard it might be.
-*High stakes are vital for one to be passionate about your story.

-Know where you’re going, especially how you’ll reach the climax/ending.
-A good outline prevents you from stalling or getting really confused.

4) Your story needs a deeply-felt theme
-Q: What is the unique moral/spiritual message of your story? This should be something that stays with the reader after the book is finished and gives newly perceived truth of what it means to be human; something integral to the concept.
-*Do not attempt to teach.
-Think: What is your message and how are you going to get it across?
-->E.g., 13 Reasons Why—the deeply-felt theme is the effect we have on others’ lives, but we can grow through this and realize, at times, there are some things we can’t do.
-->E.g., Princess for Hire—the MC is not vapor; she can be herself, and she has enormous value.

-The best books teach us more about ourselves than about our characters.

5) Include a vivid setting
-A vivid setting = one imbued with emotion in which geography and sense of place in your story almost become character themselves.
-->E.g., the city of London in The Devil’s Kiss

6) Find your voice
-Are you a musician? If not, become one.
-Are you aware of language? Train your inner ear and develop a musicality about language.
-Language has a cadence. Develop a cadence with words. Speak it aloud.
-The beauty of your voice needs to be “silvery and luminous” to convince an editor, “I must have this.”

-Writing is a craft, like cooking, playing the violin, and painting in oils. It takes a long time to master this craft, like any other.
-There is more reward in fighting through the pain of revision than in giving up and starting something else.
-Writing is 50% perspiration and 50% inspiration.
-“There is no way of writing well and also of writing easily.”

-Story is created by revelation of the internal and the external.

Example of a story that does it all right = Slumdog Millionaire (the movie; she hasn't read the book)
-extraordinary concept
-unforgettable characters
-unbelievably high stakes
-a deeply-felt theme (i.e., love overcoming survival)
-vivid, authentic setting


So that's that! Truth be told, the sessions I enjoyed the most and found the most inspiring were those led by the authors. But Sarah Davies was ah-ma-ZING. I'm not sure if all translates to paper, but if you ever get the chance to see her, do it.

I hope these notes have been as helpful to everyone else as they have been to me.

*off to think of something interesting to say now that I'm out of wise words from others* :)


Christina Lee said...

I've enjoyed all these "notes" from your time there- a big thanks!! got me thinking!

storyqueen said...

OMG! "There is not way of writing well and also of writing easily."

I really needed to read this today!

Thank you, so much, Jess for sharing all of this. I will miss it, but it's nice to know it will still be in the vault.


Weronika Janczuk said...

Jess, you are ah-ma-ZING. THANK YOU.

Lisa and Laura said...

Another fab post, Jess! Thanks for making us feel like we were there. Who needs LA when we've got friends like you?

Katie said...

Fab is right! And this was my most fave workshop in LA! Thank you so much for taking notes for me :-)

Stina Lindenblatt said...

These are great notes! I didn't attend Sarah's session so thanks for these. Her talk was apparently better than I thought it would be.

jessjordan said...

Christina, Shelley, Weronika, LiLa, Katie, and Stina: I'm so glad that my notes have been helpful. It seems silly to keep them all to myself. I want to read more great YA, so the more people that get to hear these wise words, the better!