Last night I had the good fortune to hear three children book writers, Erin Dionne (NOTES FROM AN ACCIDENTAL BAND GEEK and the forthcoming MOXIE AND THE ART OF RULE BREAKING), Gina Rosati (AURACLE) and Jo Knowles (SEE YOU AT HARRY’S) at our local library. Each read from her book, then answered questions from the audience.
As always at these events, I was most interested in hearing about process. How do these authors go about the messy business of writing? What tips might they give us that I haven’t thought about before?
I especially liked Jo’s advice about her story board, something she does after every first draft. This is a one-page visual with boxes representing chapters and one or two words describing the primary emotion in that chapter. It’s a visual way for her to see what she’s doing and what she might need to change. In a sprawling manuscript, that could be more than 200 pages, this is a terrific way to see it on one page.
When talking about how they come up with characters, Gina said she’s forever trying to revise who she was as a teen (I know the feeling!). And Erin said that she is often drawn to a story by wanting to write about something that interests her. Marching bands and the Gardner Museum art heist are two recent subjects that started her mind percolating. The characters who inhabit the books come next.
This really started me thinking about my own interests and what draws me to writing. Several weekends ago I talked about this at a NESCBWI workshop I led. A character and an internal problem come first to me, while driving, cooking dinner, running. After that, I’m forever searching for a plot. This is my process. And I encouraged my workshop attendees to know what they are interested in and to follow their strengths and interests.
But now I wonder, what would happen if I reversed my process? If I came up with my own marching band idea first, then characters later? Would it be a mess? Could I even do it? Or would it open me up in a new and unique way?