Sunday, August 11, 2019

Cynthia Leitich Smith - Writing Across Identity Elements

Cyn invited the audience to examine their own
identity elements as well as those of
the characters they create.
Cynthia Leitich Smith is a NY Times bestselling and award-winning author of fifteen books for children and teens. She also serves on the core faculty of the Vermont College of Fine Arts.

Cynthia welcomed everyone to the workshop and shared some truths about the workshop's topic right away. She offered that some would be uncomfortable with this topic, but stated that "some discomfort comes with the territory. This is an area for learning." She reminded the audience that all of us are required to stretch beyond what we know and continue growing.

Cynthia posited that "we're all specific, multifaceted individuals. So are our characters. So are the children we write for. We can do better. We must do better."

She then requested the audience to take a moment to ask themselves and record, "What are my identity elements?" She reminded them that identity elements "don't define who we are, but inform. They help us connect and understand each other."

After this, she continued with over a dozen questions for them to consider, including their knowledge base and what information/research they need to make their characters three-dimensional and authentic. Some of the questions she posed:

  • Am I reading like a writer?  Read 100 books from the identity element I want to write whether I share that identity element or not.
  • How reliable is my education and research? Err heavily in case of primary sources. 
  • Is the situation or character more nuanced than my ability to represent it? 
  • How will represented children feel about my character/content? 
  • Do I need a professional reader? Remember to never use a professional readers' names without permission or as human body shields for errors or misrepresentations in your work. 

For more information about the writer and book sources Cynthia mentioned, visit her website and follow her on Twitter.

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