Just over ten years ago, I attended a SCBWI France Retreat at an old abbey north and east of Paris. I was living in northern Italy at the time, so it was the closest thing to a local conference even though I had to take a night train there and back. All writers who attended had a critique session with an author or editor. Mine was with Lynne Reid Banks, who wrote THE INDIAN IN THE CUPBOARD books and many others. She gave me a great piece of advice: “Feel what your characters are feeling, Kristin! Don’t treat them like marionettes.”
I’ve definitely taken that advice to heart, but last week it hit me again. I was panicking right along with my main character when she dealt with something frightening. But as she retraced her steps through the maze of tunnels underneath the opera house, I found myself tucking in some information that the reader needed to know. I was seeing things through my main character’s eyes, but I wasn’t feeling them with her gut.
And that brings me forward to another SCBWI France retreat. It was no longer a comparatively local event to attend, but the three wonderful friends I made back in 1999 were all going to be there.
I brought back words of wisdom from Sharon Darrow, who was then an instructor in Vermont College’s MFA in children’s writing. In her lecture Emotion and Revision: How to get to the Emotional Core, she stressed choosing details that the character responds to and sharing emotional and physical responses. And I do take heart from this advice: “Keep the imagination going. Don’t expect too much too soon.”
Note: These photos were provided by my friend Sondy Eklund, who blogs about books at Sonderbooks.
2 thoughts on “I Second that Emotion”
Hey! I just read Harper THE INDIAN IN THE CUPBOARD. She loved it so much we are required now to read them all. It is an astonishingly good book upon a re-read. I’m glad you got a chance to work with the author!
It was pretty exciting. I think that one of the reasons that she has such a good sense of dialogue and drama is that she was trained in the theater. She really held the audience during her lectures.
One of the most memorable moments, though, was when she condemned Stephen Roxburgh and Arthur Levine for being cultural imperialists after the two of them shared the way the American books of Roald Dahl and J.K. Rowlings were almost treated as translations. (For example, sweater was substituted for jumper in the H.P. books.)
“Would you translate Austen?” Ms. Banks demanded. “Would you translate Dickens?”