Monday, April 9, 2012

Susan Sherman Speaks at SCBWI Houston

At the SCBWI Houston 2012 Conference  Susan Sherman, the Director of Art at Charlesbridge Publishing , asked the question:

What makes a good children’s book?  


She responded by telling her audience that as writers we must understand our book's age range and genre fan.  Also, our book must speak on issues that relate to the specific age of the reader. 
     
     1. Questions to ask ourselves are: 
           -          Who am I writing this book for?
           -          Why am I writing this book?
           -          How does this book compare to other books in the market place?

  1. The main character (mc) should be a child or child surrogate.  Even if it’s an adult, the mc should have a sense of character
            -          Age should be appropriate to reader

-          Don’t insert adult perspective unless it contributes to the plot

-          No adult trumpet voice of reason

-          Keep age and maturity of character consistent

-          Don’t be afraid to make the child unlikable

-          Avoid a perfect character

Some examples give are: NANNY PIGGINS, THE FLYING PIG LIVE, THE VIEW FROM SATURDAY, THE WESTING GAME, and GRANDPA GREEN.

"The author should have rich lively language in the story. 
There should be distinct
dialogue." - Sherman

What writers should avoid:
         
          No stereotypes – this is condescending to the reader
          No racial magical minority
          No great white hope. A hero can have any background!
          Don’t force multicultural characters and/or description

Resources for authentic multicultural characters: Stacy Whitman’s blog,  http://slwhitman.livejournal.com and  http://www.stacylwhitman.com/ .   Whitman’s Tu imprint publishes multicultural sci-fi books.

Sherman went on to explain that real characters are complex, dimensional, and show growth. 
They have:
          Core emotions
          Realistic action
          Complex personalities
          Show growth

Sherman gave us more to think about as writers.  She stated that we should be able to make a point without being didactic or preachy and that redemption can be a powerful tool in character development.  She continued by stating that when writing we should use economy of language and structure.  The story should not be overt and repetitive – the main focus is the story not the moral lesson.  Our focus in key scenes should be on - dialogue and exposition (everything must contribute to character and plot) and that the story must never be predictable. 

For those who are writer/illustrators, she explained that sometimes we may have to give the illustrating task to someone else.  She gave Nina Laden’s blog http://www.ninaladen.com/home/index.html  as an example of when to allow another illlustrator to do the work if needed.
Do's:
          Remember those loose plot endings and give them closure
          Keep plot fresh and original.  Keep things unpredictable- giving a clever twist.
          As author/artist create a completely credible book

If you would like to learn more from Susan Sherman's wisdom visit Steven Withrow's blog post:  Fieldnote #1 by Steven Withrow —Susan M. Sherman: Connecting Backwards and Forwards

7 comments:

  1. Really good tips for those of us writing for children.

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    1. Thanks, Terri. I'm glad these tips can help. They help me, too. :)

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  2. I hope it's helpful. You're welcome. :)

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  3. Excellent points. Thanks for writing these out for us!

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  4. Appreciate the comment. Glad it's helpful. :)

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