Thursday, May 14, 2020

#SCBWIdigital Workshop: Linda Sue Park presents "Using Scene To Build Story"

This is the 7th #SCBWIdigital workshop, free to SCBWI members in this time of global health crisis.

Linda Sue Park is a master writer and teacher of writing. She is the author of many books for young readers, including the 2002 Newbery Medal winner A Single Shard and the New York Times bestseller A Long Walk to Water. Her most recent title is Prairie Lotus, a historical fiction middle-grade novel.

Today, for the SCBWI community, Linda Sue is sharing "Using Scene To Build Story." She cautions us that this is how she writes fiction, and that it's not the only way to do it. "Writing is so personal," meaning that everyone's process is different. She hopes we might gain a tip or two, add our own spin, and eventually we'll develop our own process for writing a story - different from Linda Sue's process, and different from everyone else's process, too.

Linda Sue shares her definition of story, in a graphic:

Linda Sue Park (bottom right), the slide showing her definition of story, and ASL interpreter Jennye Kamin (top right)

"Before I start, I need to know" what the character WANTS (external quest), what the character NEEDS (internal quest), and the setting.

"Most of the time, the character doesn't know what they need" at the beginning of the story.

Linda Sue shows us how she applied this story definition to her latest book, Prairie Lotus, also in a graphic:

Hannah WANTS to graduate from high school and work as a dressmaker in her father's shop. Hannah NEEDS to learn to stand up for herself against bias, racism, and sexism. The setting is 1880 Oceti Sakowin homeland (what is now South Dakota).

Linda Sue speaks of how she thinks in scenes, not chapters. In fact, she explains that it's a few drafts in before she figures out the chapter breaks.

She suggests we do this exercise:

What’s your character’s external plot (what they WANT), their internal plot (what they NEED), and the setting?

There's a great demonstration of how, when you compare a book to a movie, a half-page of text is about 15 seconds of film... Linda Sue illustrates this (simply and dramatically) and has us consider, if we've spent half a page to describe something, or to have our character's internal dialog, that's like 15 seconds of a movie not moving forward! Seriously, count out 15 seconds... that's a long time for a reader to get distracted.

Using her novel, A Single Shard, she demonstrates how a single sentence should be able to encapsulate what a scene is about.

Linda Sue advises us,

With every scene, your character is going to make progress or face impediment to one of their quests (external or internal).

She keeps this in mind as she writes, looking at her character's internal and external quests, and asking herself "is this scene progress or impediment?"

There's so much more, with discussions and examples from Linda Sue's Project Mulberry, and Keeping Score, her distinction between middle grade and YA, and her technique for developing depth in a story - in every scene - along with an exercise to get more depth in our own writing.

And an explanation of how the story's ending should have "unexpected inevitability."

Linda Sue Park (at bottom, in pink) - ASL interpreter Jennye Kamin (at top)

It really is a master class, with so much to learn and apply!

Thank you, Linda Sue.

Stay safe, all.

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