Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Wordsmith’s Secrets

Kathleen Duey shares a wealth of information at the SCBWI Bologna Conference
You have to get use to people reading your work and commenting on your work. Learn to market. Every writer should get feedback, but not from their family. When you read your work aloud mark in the margin when you notice your reader is bored, confused or they do not believe in the world you have created. All you need are kids who like to read.

Kathleen has been her own agent for 10 years. Every person has a road block, such as family issues, being disturbed. You have to take yourself seriously for other people to take you seriously.

Beautiful lyrical writing is not enough to hold someone’s interest. If the reader cares about the character you are writing about it does not matter about the writing. The story stops dead whilst you are narrating. The less narrating you have the better.

Writing Exercise
Describe a tree through the eyes of a boy who is on their way to go sledging with friends in winter. Then describe it as an old man going to visit his wife in hospital in the spring. Don’t mention the man, or boy, just describe the tree. Don’t narrate feelings imply the feelings.

Writing is a vocation like being a nun. Write despite the self-doubt and the feedback you get from your writing will quieten the self-doubt. Read as much as you can with continuous attention. Trust your intuition.

Kathleen does not create characters she interviews them. She hears the voice in her head. Put your consciousness away. When building the plots don’t ask when happens next ask what would the character do next and if you don’t know try the interview. You should be able to hear the voice of your character. If you cannot picture them clearly try cutting pictures out of magazines.

Describe your characters the first time they come on stage not a few pages in. Have your characters look in the mirror and ask them to describe themselves. When describing things do it in viewpoint and add the emotion.

Kathleen draws floor plans and thinks what is in every room. Think about what you want the reader to see first. What do you want them to remember? Set the stage from the beginning. If you have an important prop mention it the first time, then mention it again 100 pages on and then use it.

When you have good day writing think about - why? Stop in the middle of a scene that you know where you are going to end so when you come back you know where to carry on from. Kathleen does a lot of reading back. She also prints it out and writes on the manuscript. She adds tags identifying description, characterisation, dialogue, etc. Re-reading reminds the writer of the characters emotional state. If you have secondary characters that are stealing the show and distracting form the story, extract them.

If you feel you have weak spots do exercises to practice them like writing a whole scene in dialogue. Heave out the dull stuff. Kathleen writes down the milestones – the precipitating incident that gets the ball rolling. You should be able to describe a book in four or five incidents. One of the milestones will be your climax.


Remember, analyse why you had a good day. What did you do to make your writing come easier?
There are two major tracks for writers – the commercial and the literary. Make yourself a five year plan and look at the career you want. If you work best at 3am learn to nap in the day. There is too much good competition to write as a hobby and succeed.

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