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.