Tuesday, March 31, 2015

COSCBWI Meeting March 2015

The March meeting for Central and Southern Ohio SCBWI involved one of my favorite activities: first page critiques.  Every writer knows how important it is to craft a winning first page for his or her manuscript.  The first page is a story's first impression with readers, so it's crucial to make that impression a great one.

For first  page critique meetings, members are invited to bring the first page of their middle grade or young adult manuscript, or the first 500 words of a picture book manuscript.  The work is shared with the group, and members give feedback on things they like about the text  as well as what could still use a bit of polish.

Here are a few tips and pointers the group discussed during this critique meeting:

1)  Don't be afraid to revise and, if necessary, even cut some of your text.  It's easy to get attached to every word of your manuscript, but sometimes it's important to focus on the entire forest instead of the individual trees.  Good critique buddies can help you hone in on what's important, and what can be trimmed.  You may love the way you describe every step of your main character's morning routine, but readers might not need to know that she brushed her teeth, combed her hair, put on clothes, walked downstairs, sat at the kitchen table, poured cereal, checked the expiration date on the milk carton, and so on and so forth.  (Unless it's a cautionary tale about the dangers of drinking expired milk.)  Rewriting--and even deleting--those precious words can be so hard to do, but it's worth the heartache if it makes your story shine.  (Just remember to keep some chocolate bars at your desk to help you through the toughest revisions!)        

2)  It's never too early to practice proper formatting.  You may like to type your manuscript drafts with a fun font and specialized spacing, but you should make it a habit to present your manuscript in standard formatting with double spacing, one-inch margins, and 12 point font in a generally accepted typeset like Times New Roman.  (SCBWI members can find great resources regarding formatting guidelines on the national website at www.scbwi.org.)  You may be surprised how your text falls once you put it in standard formatting--like cutting off in the middle of your favorite paragraph!  Practicing proper formatting early on can help you avoid any unexpected hiccups when it's time to submit your work to professionals.     

3)  Don't info dump!  Most writers have heard this rule of thumb over and over again, but it can't be repeated enough.  You may be inclined to cram every bit of back-story and detail into your first page to ground your reader in your story, but that can end up being intimidating.  (And you don't want to scare your reader off--or bore them, or confuse them!)  Sprinkle in any necessary details to help pique your reader's interest (like if your narrator is a teenage boy or a talking squirrel from the planet Nutonia), and remember that you have a whole novel to explain everything else.  

COSCBWI usually does at least one first page critique meeting a year, so I have four other summaries of past meetings you can check out, too!  (You can find them hereherehere, and here.  Boy have I been doing these meeting summaries for a long time!)  Our discussions are different during each critique meeting, so you may find some other handy tips from these prior years.

 If you'd like to learn more about Central and Southern Ohio SCBWI and upcoming events, check out http://ohiocensouth.scbwi.org/.  I hope to see you at the April meeting!

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