I had a really good time at the SCBWI OC Spring Conference. It was held at South Coast resort in Temecula, a very comfortable and accommodating place located in the heart of Temecula’s wine country. On Saturday, we heard from editors from four different houses, each giving their take on how to craft a manuscript that would catch an editor’s eye. They fed us an amazingly good lunch at Carol’s restaurant located at the Bailey vineyard, just down the road. Each lunch table had either an editor or published author to talk with during our lunch, then at dessert, they all switched tables so that you got to talk to one editor and one author over the course of the mealtime. Sunday’s program was craft-based, with sessions on how to write a synopsis, how to make a PB dummy, and how to craft a good villain. Both days featured “first pages” critique sessions, where they read page one of a random manuscript out loud, and then the editors each gave their reactions to what was read. I imagine how difficult it must be for an editor to give off-the-cuff or on-the-fly type comments, but for the audience, it provided tremendous insight as to how we might improve our own manuscripts. Their comments were universally applicable. For example, some of the comments given on a MG first page manuscript included: “Good economical writing for the most part. I liked how the conflict was set up quickly. I liked that the character was set up quickly. There were some long sentences – it took the reader an extra breath to read – watch the rhythm of the paragraph. Punchy first line. A MG -friendly premise. The reader wants to keep reading.” And for a YA first page: “Intriguing. The conflict is presented right away, but needs ‘substantial-ness’. Don’t be afraid to jump right into story. I sensed two separate beginnings – be sure to clearly bring across the conflict.”
There was even a round-table critique session where each table was facilitated by either a published author or an editor. You got three minutes to read (about 500 words or 2 double-spaced pages) and then three minutes of critique. The rule was that after the reader read, he or she didn’t speak at all during the critique. The idea being that you need to be in “receive mode” for this style of critique. Even though it seemed fast, it was a very effective way to get feedback.
I really liked the balance between industry prospective, craft, and critique. The OC and Tri-regions SCBWI groups do a great job putting on conferences and workshops, and I hope to attend more of them in future.