Two Field Trips for Eastern PA SCBWI Members, and a Workshop! by Virginia Law Manning

books-2468247_1280August brings a number of exciting events to EPA SCBWI members. We hope you’ll join us for one or more of them!

“Eloise at the Museum” Exhibit in NYC
Sunday, August 20, 2017
11:00 AM – 12:30 PM
New York Historical Society

The Metro NY SCBWI chapter has organized a docent-led tour of the “Eloise at the Museum” exhibit at the New York Historical Society on Sunday August 20th. It’s a wonderful exhibit, and the story behind the collaboration between Kay Thompson and Hilary Knight is filled with drama! You don’t want to miss this show or the opportunity to meet our NY SCBWI neighbors! For more information and ticket pricing, please follow this link

EPA SCBWI Meet & Greet at the Princeton Children’s Book Festival
September 23, 2017
4 PM
The Alchemist & Barrister 

Attention book lovers! The Princeton Children’s Book Festival is Saturday, September 23rd from 11 AM to 4 PM. More than 80 acclaimed authors and illustrators of children’s literature gather on Hinds Plaza to meet, interact with, and sign books at this annual event. Please join fellow EPA members at 4 PM at The Alchemist & Barrister (across the street from the festival) to discuss all things kidlit! 

Monday, August 21, 2017
8:30 AM – 1:30 PM WISH UPON A STORY at Bethlehem Public Library
2:30 PM – 3:30 PM BOOK SIGNING at Moravian Book Store

Do you have a wish for your story?

The magic you need to make your wish come true could be waiting for you at our WISH UPON A STORY event. Join us at the Bethlehem Public Library for a day of lecture, critique, book signings, and more. Award-winning author Sarah Aronson will provide our keynote and round table critiques. Your registration also includes two breakout sessions.

  • DIP INTO THE WISHING WELL: Quench Thirsty Prose with Poetic Devices with Lindsay Bandy
  • TEACHERS & WRITERS: Wishing for Voice with Lindsay Barrett George, Jan Cheripko, Kim Briggs, and Alison Green Myers
  • SCBWI & BEYOND: Opportunities for New Writers and Illustrators with Rona Shirdan and Virginia Law Manning
  • WHAT YOUR CHARACTERS WISH YOU KNEW: A Panel Discussion on Character with Pam Jones Nill, Alison Green Myers, and guests

Join us in downtown Bethlehem and make your manuscript dreams come true. Register now:

$45 for members (includes keynote, two breakout sessions, & Round Table Critique)

$60 for non-members (includes keynote, two breakout sessions, & Round Table Critique)

$30 (includes keynote and two breakout sessions)

Lunch is not included.

If you are participating in the Round Table Critiques, you will receive an email with details about submissions as well as your assigned time.

Space is limited to the first 20 registrations.




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A New Chapter, by Lauren LeBlanc

luggage-1482697_1280An aspiring novelist and founder of the Collegeville KidLit Writers Group is packing her bags at the end of the summer and moving from suburban Philadelphia to Dallas, Texas. Here, she submits herself for consideration into the Dallas chapter of SCBWI.

Dear New, Warmer, Southern Chapter of SCBWI,

My family is relocating to your greater metropolitan area at the end of the summer, an area where I have a few “regular” friends and zero writing friends, so I’d like to submit my work—or, I guess, myself, really—for consideration.

First, about me. I’m a writer, though not yet an agented or published one. (I mean, I have a few articles and essays floating around out there, but who doesn’t, amiright?) I started as a picture book writer, then a chapter book writer, and now I’ve moved on to the dream of so many good English majors (or journalism majors, in my case)—writing a novel. Mine is for middle schoolers, and it’s about halfway finished, so I’m hoping you’ll find room for me in your ranks. I like to do a lot of online shopping, so I need extra strength accountability.

Um, maybe here’s where I should list my selling points? I’m a go-getter, in that I go and get things that aren’t that far from the couch. I did start a critique group here in Pennsylvania and complete a not-so-easy children’s lit fellowship in New York, but I think lots of writers do stuff like that, so, let’s see… Something unique about me…

Oh! I make a killer salsa. Everyone says so. I can bring some to meetings. Or… are there meetings? How does this work? Will I mostly be cloistered at home in my laundry room/office—dubbed the “lauffice”—corresponding to you guys through email? Because I think my dog is getting sick of being my sounding board. Also, seeing other grownups sometimes would be great. (See the above note about the salsa. Really. It’s that good.)

What else, what else… I’d also love any tips you guys could provide for maintaining a healthy writing routine while I drive two kids, one dog, and one high-maintenance betta fish 1,500 miles across the country. What’s the recommended procedure for that? My writing routine, though effective, is as delicate as a soufflé. I’m worried it’s gonna fall apart just as easily. Any tips you could provide for writing in transit would be most appreciated.

That’s it, I guess. To recap: lauffice, salsa, betta fish, soufflé… or something.

Also, please be nice. The Pennsylvania writers I’ve met are so nice. Please just don’t be mean to me. 

With hope,

Lauren LeBlanc

PS: You bring the chips.

Lauren LeBlanc has been an active member of SCBWI for two years, though she wrote her first picture book manuscript fourteen years ago. She is a 2015 Children’s Literature Fellow at SUNY Stony Brook, where she studied under Emma Walton Hamilton, Cindy Kane, Patricia McCormick, and Ann Whitford Paul. Her chapter book, How To Be a Bad Guy, by Dallas Bottomleywas the 2016 winner of the SCBWI Work-In-Progress Grant for chapter books, the only winner in its genre and one of only six winners nationwide. Lauren also works as a stage and commercial actor and is a former award-winning language arts teacher and newspaper reporter. The bit about the salsa is real.

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Registration is Open for WISH UPON A STORY on August 21!

Do you have a wish for your manuscript?
🌟You might just find the magic to make your wish come true at Sarah Aronson’s upcoming WISH UPON A STORY event at the Bethlehem Public Library.

Join us August 21 from 8:30am to 1:30pm (book signing to follow). Click here to register, and for more information.

Optional round table critiques available with Sarah.

Several EPA SCBWI volunteers will also host sessions.

DIP INTO THE WISHING WELL: Quench Thirsty Prose with Poetic Devices with Lindsay Bandy

TEACHERS & WRITERS: Wishing for Voice with Lindsay Barrett George, Jan Cheripko, Kim Briggs, and Alison Green Myers

SCBWI & BEYOND: Opportunities for New Writers and Illustrators with Rona Shirdan and Virginia Law Manning

WHAT YOUR CHARACTERS WISH YOU KNEW: A Panel Discussion on Character with Pam Jones Nill, Alison Green Myers, and guests





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Avoiding Cliché Characters In YA Fiction, by Lori Ann Palma

sunset-242713_1280When writers develop characters, we most often begin with an idea—a sort of shapeless blob that becomes more distinct as we write a first draft or do a pre-writing character study. Over time, they grow physical characteristics and a personality, as well as a goal or desire they want to attain. As these details come into focus, you have to keep a sharp eye on your character development for any clichés.

A cliché is defined as an overused idea that lacks originality. Some of the common character clichés in YA fiction include the brooding loner bad boy, the mean girl who rules the school, and a one-dimensional BFF sidekick. If you’re using one of these character types in your story, don’t panic! You’re about to learn how to transform them.

Here are a few areas to focus on when developing a unique cast of characters for your novel:

Physical Description: Details set people apart, especially when it comes to a character’s physical description. However, it can be easy to forget about details when you already have the character’s type in your head. When the type combines with expected physical characteristics, cliché disasters happen. Examples include: the most popular girl in school has long, lustrous blonde hair and perfect skin, or the male star athlete is tall, hot, and has plenty of muscles. Even these examples can be challenged as stereotypes…what if you have a popular boy character and a female star athlete?

To avoid clichés, start by making a list of character types featured in your work. You might have a queen bee, a cheating boyfriend, an overprotective mother. As you develop them further, challenge stereotypes and write their appearance so it defies expectations. Think about it like casting a movie…would you go with the obvious choice or the surprising actor?

Personality: Humans are complex beings with qualities that are often contradictory. As you craft your characters and define their personalities, use a combination of contrasting traits. Good people aren’t good every second of the day, beautiful people can have deep emotional scars, and wallflowers can be enchanting in their own unique way. Using the same examples as before, your popular character might be really nice, and the star athlete doesn’t have to be an academically challenged meathead. The idea is to balance your characters with traits that make them surprising. When their personality isn’t locked into a stereotype, their actions become all the more compelling.

Actions: Characters must have a desire, then take action to attain this desire, thus moving the plot forward. When it comes to writing character actions and choices, avoiding clichés gets tricky.  The reason: there are cliché plots, and then there are story (or genre) conventions. A story convention is what you expect a novel to include. For example, if you’re writing a murder mystery, you expect to have a crime, an investigator (usually your protagonist), a villain, and a red herring. If it’s a love story, then you’d expect to have some sort of misunderstanding or fight that breaks the couple up before they eventually come back together. You know these things are going to happen, so it seems like they are a cliché, but really, they are elements of a story that make the plot rise and fall.

That being said, the line can become blurry. A love triangle, for example, is a cliché, but is used so often, it can be confused as a convention. Other examples of overused tropes include characters who only love themselves after receiving love from a relationship, or characters who are in love instantly, like after one chapter. If you find yourself heading down this road, it will be helpful to do some research into the common clichés in your YA genre. Armed with a list, you’ll be able to avoid as you craft your plot. Furthermore, as you’re writing, ask yourself if the choices your characters makes feel predictable. If you can’t be objective, try asking a beta reader or critique partner if they knew what was going to happen way before it happened.

In reality, it’s actually quite difficult to avoid ALL clichés, which is why I think including one or two is okay, as long as you don’t overwhelm your story with them. Overall, the key is to pay attention to what you’re writing. Your first draft may fall victim to some common tropes, but that’s what revising is for. When you go back and read, keep an eye out for any stereotypes. If you find one, challenge yourself to tweak it.

None of us are immune to writing clichés, but with some thought and revising, your characters will feel as if they’re living, breathing humans.

Are there any clichés you tend to repeat in your work?



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Chapter Prewriting Guide: Essential Character Inventory, by Kristen C. Strocchia

checklist-2470549_1280As Darcy Pattison likes to say, no character comes into a chapter or scene neutral. So, as the author, there are a few things that I need to be aware of before sitting to write the next chapter or scene of a character’s story:

First of all, who are the characters in this chapter? Orson Scott Card, in his book Character and Viewpoint, talks about the characters who must be there and the ones who might be. It’s important to consider both, to know why these characters must or might be present and how they interact with one another and the plot.

Second, what is the main character (MC) feeling right now? This emotion is not a random cosmic hiccup or an arbitrary feeling fit by the author. It should flow justifiably from the emotional set-up of the preceding chapter, which possibly hails from a deep-rooted character trait and of course backstory. This emotion can and probably will change as the chapter unfolds and each other character is introduced to the scene.

Third, what is the tension in this chapter? And how does my character respond to this tension? The MC will have overall goals, stakes, and conflict propelling the novel, but what is the particular tension in this chapter that will keep the MC on edge and readers right there turning pages with them?

Fourth, when and where is this chapter occurring? Just like no character emotes in a vacuum, no character reacts in a black hole. Knowing whether it is light or dark out, just before breakfast or just after, in a desert or a frozen tundra makes a hug difference in how the character will respond.

By taking the time to consider these things, I can ensure—even in a first draft—that the emotional path and reaction choices stay more consistent with the character than if I just write through my plot outline. Not only that, but I can take this inventory a step deeper before putting pen to paper and ask: is this combination of MUST be, MIGHT be, justifiable emotion, chapter tension and setting the best possible choice for fleshing out this character? Does it serve both the character development arc and story arc? Is it absolutely essential?

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Upcoming EPA SCBWI Events

Saturday September 9, 2017: SCBWI Eastern PA Annual Illustrator Day comes back to Center City for a day of presentations, discussion and portfolio reviews!

Including a stellar faculty: Jonathan BeanIllustrator; Sarah HokansonArt DirectorJames BurnsAgent & Christopher BrownCurator, Children’s Literature Research Collection

Register now and start the art director’s assignment. Limited optional portfolio reviews sell out quickly!


Save the dates for these fantastic events coming up in Eastern PA.

• WISH UPON A STORY with Sarah Aronson at Bethlehem Library — August 21

• POETRY DAY in Lancaster — October 7

• FALL PHILLY at The Warwick at Rittenhouse Square, Philadelphia — November 5
Details to follow.

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Character Primer: Which Hatched First—The Character or The Plot? by Kristen C. Strocchia

egg-944495_1280Character development is a classic question of which hatched first—the character or the plot? Or—if you’re like me—then the title almost always springs to mind first, spurring the development of both. Sometimes my title ideas inspire a setting and a name or a list of names. When this happens, I have to start asking myself questions about motives and backstory to find the plot. More often, my titles carry an inherent plot line to which I need to fit characters and find an appropriate setting. However, there’s no one set way to write a picture book or novel character.

When characters hatch first, then likely the plot will grow around backstory and out of the main character’s deepest needs, desires, and fears. In this case, it’s a good idea to do character sketches or inventories. Personally, I find that these characters are more developed from the outset because I know exactly who they are and how they will react before I even present them with an obstacle. Despite this, I often prefer to carve a character out of the conflict rather than the other way around.

If plot hatches first, then the main character will be the person who grows the most through the trials and tribulations that befall them and will have the most to gain or lose at the climax of the conflict. For me, this character is more fun to develop because I get to know them slowly, like becoming good friends as the first and subsequent drafts unfold. As a fairly recent convert to plotter, this type of character development also leaves the creative space to change my story arc as the characters reveal themselves to me.

In the end, it doesn’t matter where you start as long as your character and plot intertwine unquestionably, each incomplete without the other—like sneakers without laces or a cone without ice cream. Remember, even though there’s not a set way to develop a character, a great book needs both. Regardless of whether you start with a sensational character or an innovative plot, take time to hatch and cultivate both.

Which one comes first for you?

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