Sunday, August 2, 2015

Jordan Brown: Five Principles For Revision

One of the coolest things about attending the SCBWI Summer Conference is that when you're wowed by a faculty member's breakout session – if you time it right – you can go to their other session as well. To dig deeper. To learn more.

So, after being wowed by Jordan's breakout session on Voice, I attended (and here blog) his second breakout session, on Revision...

Jordan Brown is an executive editor with the imprints Walden Pond Press and Balzer + Bray at HarperCollins Children's Books.

The room is packed, every seat filled, people sitting on the floor.

Jordan starts us out the way he starts out when creating an editorial letter for a book he's editing. He aims to define the core of the manuscript.

The core is three important qualities:
1. A central element of the story to which all readers can ideally relate - the universal.
2. What is the most formative experience of your young character's life? That's what your book should be about.
3. Something your character chooses, or has agency.

He illustrates the core of the manuscript with Suzanne Collins' "The Hunger Games":
1. The concept is survival.
2. The most formative experience of Katniss's life is being in the Hunger Games.
3. It's her choice. She volunteers to save her sister.

It's these core concepts that Jordan uses to ground his revision notes, to make sure he and the author share a vision of what the book is.

He walks us through his five principles of revision. I'll share one of them.

Character Drives Plot

You want your plot to ask the right questions of your character:
1. What does my character want?
2. What are the stakes for my character? What happens if she doesn't get what she wants?
3. What complicates things. Why can't the character get what they want?

As full as the room is, Jordan's speech is still more full of great content, tips and examples. He ends with his explaining how to know if your book is ready... or if it's not ready.

A final note:

Jordan reminds us that our manuscripts don't have to be perfect, that

"As editors, we're not acquiring your pages. We're acquiring the vision they represent."

And revision is the way to get our books to match our vision.

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