SCBWI Writers’ Day 10 Things

On October 27th I had the opportunity to attend my first Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators’ event – Writers’ Day.  I stepped out with apprehension. Not because I was afraid I wouldn’t enjoy the day. I was sure I would. But because I would be with a large group of people I’d never met before.

If you know me. you may not have guessed this about me, but on a scale of one to a hundred as far as an introvert goes, I score WAY up there. Yep. I couldn’t get more introverted if I tried. I push myself hard to interact on a regular basis. You have no idea the stress I hide behind this little wall of mine. But that’s beside the point.

I couldn’t pass up the annual Writers’ Day. It was only minutes from my home. Far too good to be true – right? Well, as close as it was to my home, and, as familiar as I am with the surrounding streets, I should have found the time to zip over there during the week leading up to the event to familiarize myself with the layout. The morning of, I drove over there, got to the location, and had no idea where to go. It was being held at the Lutheran University, which sits on both sides of the main road. There were no signs telling me which side was the one I wanted. I picked a side, found a map of the campus and…read it wrong. Yep! That right, I read it wrong.

So I head off and proceeded to drive all around the wrong area looking for signs telling me where to go. I knew something was wrong because it didn’t make sense for SCBWI to hold the event in the student housing. I saw another lady driving around in the same manner and figured she was just as lost as I was. Thank GOD for the lovely young student setting out for her morning jog. She set me straight. I got back to where I wanted to be, and you know what? That other lost driver was going the same place I was. I made a connection before I even reached the building. We’d both read the map wrong in the same manner, which makes me think it’s easy to do. Anyway…

Everyone was really friendly and the day was filled with great information, delivered by wonderful authors, agents, editors, designers and publishers.

One of the highlights was when  Molly O’ Neill (Editor at Katherine Tegen Books imprint of Harper Collins Children’s Books) and Jennifer Rofé (Agent at Andrea Brown Literary Agency) got up and talked off-the-cuff about what they discuss and look for when they start breaking down middle grade literature. Honestly, I think you can apply this just as easily to young adult genre.

Horrible picture, I know. My phone kept focusing on the people in front of me. 😦

The 10 Things” according to Molly O’Neill and Jennifer Rofé

  1. Twilight– No, not the book. The in-between state. We’re talking eighth grade when the children aren’t as protected as middle grade, but not yet jaded.  This can bring out a lot of emotions, sense of possibilities, wonder. Your hero may be seeing beyond their world for the first time and there’s still magic in it.
  2. Wonder – Wanting creates tension and brings wonder. Wonder also builds off the emotional state seen in twilight.
  3. Heart – Write with heart. When writing middle grade, remember that your characters are often experiencing first. They don’t know the pain of a breakup until they experience it. Afterwards they may build guards against relationships. A breakup from a one week relationship may seem like the end of the world for them. No two will be the same, but pour heart into each little detail of your character. Side note: It’s interesting when characters break profile.
  4. Playfulness – Giggle fits out of nowhere are common with middle grades. They’re at a stage where they’re growing up, but they aren’t fully ready to leave childhood behind. They sometimes work harder to hang onto the silly factor.
  5. Depth – Emotions. They may be young, but they feel, and feel deeply. Counterbalance the emotions. Let your characters do stupid things as they are still on the learning curve.
  6. Stakes – Make them age appropriate, but don’t remain flat. Raise them! Stakes are often closely tied to what characters desire and what stands in the way of that desire.
  7. Change – Characters should develop throughout the story. Their perspective and transition, both exterior and interior needs to grow. Use the setting to show this by having your character align or grate against it.
  8. Connections – These are important both on a story level and on a reader level. The reader has to walk away with something. Some sort of satisfaction. The story needs to resonate, be it specific or universal.
  9. Characters – Make them real, organic, authentic, genuine and true. Need I say more?
  10. Kid Appeal and Gate Keeper Appeal – Your story must have a sense of fun and wish fulfillment for it to see success with its potential readers and the parents that control what those readers pick up.

There you have it! Ten things every kid’s story should have. Another interesting thing that Jennifer Rofé said, that ran contrary to everything I’d been taught so far, was that she thought it was a huge mistake for writers to start their stories with the action. She was disappointed in whoever had spread this information to writers everywhere. She believes stories should start with character development, so that the reader cares about the hero when things begin to happen. I see both sides of the coin.

She suggested I start my MS with my second chapter. Maybe. But the non-writers who have read my story found that character development chapter one of the least interesting. They like the immediate grab. I haven’t asked my writer friends their opinion yet. That comment more than anything got me thinking about the difference between agents and the average readers.

Tell me, did you find the ten points helpful? What do you thing about the opening of a book? Do you like to meet your characters first or be intrigued and excited by the story a bit? 


I’ve done a horrible job at following up on comments or getting to blogs this last week with all that has been going on (vacation prep, home upgrades, and repairs). Today I’m packing and tomorrow we fly. I’m going to be realistic and pull some if not all of the post planned during my absence as I won’t expect everyone to support this blog when I am unavailable to reciprocate. I hope you understand and I look forward to a fun return on Monday the 26th when we have something fun and slightly different planned for Immortal Monday.


Reminder: this blog will be relocating to a self-hosted site at some point near the end of the year. I hope you’ll follow us to the new digs. My fabulous designer, Laird Sapir, is working her tail off for us. I can’t wait to see what she comes up with.

About Debra Kristi

Debra Kristi is a mother, an author, a Pinterest addict, and sometimes DIY home decorator. Hang with her to escape the everyday stress. Be sure to leave your mind open to the fantastical.
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17 Responses to SCBWI Writers’ Day 10 Things

  1. tedstrutz says:

    Oh, I thought you said ‘screw’ writer’s day! That was interesting.

  2. Jean says:

    Wow! Those 10 things are WONDERFUL to know! Perhaps you have been in my head? I ask because you have posted the exact right thing at the exact right time. The apprehension is not easy to overcome, as I have been finding. You know of my little project and all I was waiting for was to finish my exams but now that I have, I am finding a million other things to do. I’ve recently come to realize that it is the fear of failure that is holding me back. What could an Accountant know about writng?? And even knowing that you are more of an introvert, you are still one of the most put together people I know so reading that you had some apprehension makes me realize that we all have our dragons to slay. Here is to me, trying to slay my own, thanks to my wonderful friend!

    • Debra Kristi says:

      You’re welcome, my friend. I love that idea of yours. It’s the one we discussed when you were out here last? You might want to search out a local writers’ group for support with your project. They can help you better your progress and process along the way. I never thought of myself as a writer before I started writing either. Sometimes you don’t know where life is going to take you.

  3. Good for you for going! I love leaving a conference feeling energized. I had to start my book at ch 5 and I wove the good bits from the earlier chapters in 🙂 It was a pain but I think my story is better because of it.

    • Debra Kristi says:

      It all has me thinking. I have to let it simmer for a bit and let the story work it self out in my mind before I jump in. I’m also looking at Holly Lisle’s series class when I get back. I’m really excited at the prospect.

  4. Terrific list, Debra. Thanks for sharing some of your favorite takeaways from the conference!

    I personally love the grabby, exciting openings, which is pretty universal in thrillers. At the end of the day, we have to do what we feel is best (hopefully while using a bit of logic LOL—uh, that’s a reminder to me, not you). Good luck! Can’t wait to hear more.

    • Debra Kristi says:

      I’m with you, August. If the scene doesn’t grab me right away I’ll set the book down and move on to another. I’ve had too many books lately where that’s been an issue for me. I don’t want to be one. 😦 Thanks so much.

  5. Emma says:

    I like to hear from the character first and then the action can start later. But I do hear a lot of people say stories should start with a bang. You don’t seem at all like an introvert but it’s good that you tried something different. I’m trying the same myself.

    • Debra Kristi says:

      I like to get to know the characters too, but through interesting situations. Sometimes those opening situations need to really catch my attention to make me pick that book over the next. I am so the introvert. Sometimes I’m not on social media because it’s overwhelming to me and I lose the time I have to post dealing with the panic on what I should post. It solves the problem when I run out of time. LOL.

  6. Diana Beebe says:

    Great list, Debra! Thanks for sharing it. Very timely for me as I focus on the last parts of my MG WIP. Good for you for going! I can completely relate. 😉

    Have a safe trip and enjoy the house updates!

  7. sounds like a great day and you learned a lot. the list is a good one.

  8. I’m still not convinced you’re as introverted as you say. 🙂 That’s a great list, and you’re right, it transcends kid’s books. Have a fabulous few weeks off!

    • Debra Kristi says:

      I’m only relaying what the results of the tests say. Once I get to know someone I’m pretty open. Glad you like the list. You would have loved our dinner location tonight. Off to see Mickey tomorrow. 🙂

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