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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Introducing Your Characters to Your Friends, by Lindsay Bandy

July is all about picnics, fireworks, and…CHARACTER!

You probably already had your BBQ for Independence Day, but it’s not too late to introduce your characters to your friends. No, I don’t mean you should pull chairs around the campfire and leave some empty for your pretend friends. I mean get your critique group together – or join/start one!


So are you a Plot Person, or a Character-Character?  Did you start writing your story because of the cool, twisty plot that popped into your head? Or did a character somehow find you and convince you to tell their story? Obviously, every story needs both, because character and plot are dependent on each other, but depending on your personality, one might come easier to you than the other.

I’m more of a Character-Character when it comes to starting my stories. I know who they are and how they need to grow, but I can’t outline to save my life. I need to develop a series of events (er, plot) that will get them from point A to point B emotionally, because I love, love, love, love them and I can’t wait to introduce all my friends to my characters….but….

Surprise! I don’t actually know them as well as I think I do.


Time after time, I write a scene only to have a critique partner say, “Um, that reaction doesn’t make sense. Did something happen in her past to make her react that way? Or don’t you think she might do this instead?” Hmmmm….okay. I either need to better understand my character’s backstory and emotional makeup, or adjust their action/reaction. Even if I don’t agree with a suggestion, these kinds of questions always help me to hone my character because I need to justify their response, fully understand their story and what makes them tick. We need other people to ask us the questions we haven’t thought of yet so we can really know our characters.

Here are a few suggestions for your next critique session:

-As you read someone else’s work, make note of sentences or details that alert you to something deeper about a character. Sometimes, an author will write something subconsciously, and you as the reader can help to point out what their character is trying to tell them. Pointing out the use of a certain word, reaction, or some other telling detail can actually surprise the author, leading them in a new (and right!) direction.

-Make a list of what you know, paying particular attention to the things you, as the reader, have inferred. Telling the author what you know about their character can be extremely helpful. Starting a critique session by saying, “First off, tell me what you know,” can  help you to see if you’re conveying what you want to convey….or not.

-Always note when an interaction or reaction feels off. Bring this up gently, and with the intent of helping the author to dig deeper into their character’s psyche.

-Don’t forget about secondary characters. We learn a lot about a person through their interactions with friends, enemies, and family members. Think about the ways secondary characters bring out the good or bad in your MC or the antagonist. If these people aren’t bringing out an interesting or real side of your MC, maybe that secondary character needs some work. Maybe they need a personality change. Maybe they just need to die. Hey, you never know.

-Try IF-THEN charts. Try out different paths of action for your characters without having to write an outline or a cumbersome number of throwaway scenes. You can make a list or chart to evaluate your options. IF on one side, THEN on the other.


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Summer Mentor Read, by Kristen C. Strocchia

books-1245744_1280Got time for books?

Why not put your reading time to work and make a mentor reading list for this summer? I’ve discovered over the last several years of attending the Pocono Retreat that besides a Writing To Do list, I also leave with a list of ideas for mentor reads.

What is a mentor read? Simply a book that does something that you’re trying to do with your manuscript—whether you’re succeeding already or you’ve hit a road block—and does it well. It’s a book that you can go to for craft advice. Dissect the author’s construction. Learn something new or hone your almost-there-skill.

The possible topics a mentor read can help with are limitless. Consider studying a published work for advice on:

  • Introducing characters
  • Character development
  • POV
  • Plot structure
  • Voice
  • Pacing
  • World-building
  • Incorporating foreign language (without confusing readers)…this is one of my mainstays
  • And anything else you can think of/need!

It’s like a DIY writer’s workshop for FREE…or the cost of a book. But where else can you get a writer’s workshop that cheap? And it’s available whenever your schedule allows.

Check out the Notable Book Voices on my blog for some language-specific mentor text profiles. And let us know in the comments below what books have mentored what aspects of your writing, or post a “Mentor Wanted” comment if you’re in need of an idea for a mentor book to help with something specific.

Happy reading and writing!

Posted in Book Recommendations, summer reading, Uncategorized | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Summer Reading: Cutting the Line, by Kristen C. Strocchia


Most likely we’ve all heard the advice that great writers are great readers. Know your craft, which we do by reading authors who’ve succeeded there. So, like many will-be authors, I keep a To Read list and a stack of Read Next books handy. And especially during the summer, which, as a teacher, is my time of the year to assume the full time author role.

But there are always authors that cut my line. Ones that it doesn’t matter where I am in my list or stack, because when they publish something new, I’m going to put down every book I’m interested in or curious about to read. These authors captivate and inspire me. These are authors that I have fallen in love with.

Here are a few of my favorite line cutters for your guilty pleasure:

  • Sharon Cameron: immersive period details, romantic tension, and suspenseful intrigue.
  • Alley Carter: appropriate teen romance, laugh out loud humor moments, and suspenseful intrigue.
  • Megan Whalen Turner: expert world building with hints of multiculturalism, nonstop intrigue, suspense (are you seeing a pattern here?), and heart-grabbing characters.
  • Pam Muñoz Ryan: poignant Hispanic cultural stories (something I’m a sucker for), heartfelt characters, and powerful life changes.

Please share your recommendations for me in the comments below. (Who doesn’t want a new author to love?)

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The Journey Will Be Worth It, by Laura Marinakos

avenue-2215317_1280I have long been a fan of picture books, and if possible, I would spend a significant amount of time reading them. Instead, I find myself grasping at those few minutes of the day where I can cuddle with my girls and giggle over a good story. (A time I cherish greatly.)

This summer, as I continue my journey toward writing, and of course re-writing, I find myself searching for the latest and greatest picture books available. I know that in reading them, I will, in turn, strengthen my craft. There are many books which I could speak to—we all know the talent out there is tremendous! However, there is one picture book I recently read, which has stuck with me.pigloo 2

And that is Pigloo, by Anne Marie Pace.

Pigloo is a story about a pig named Pigloo, who is intent on traveling to the North Pole and back—before lunch. This delightful and engaging story represents the eagerness, patience, and determination that go along with setting a goal and going after it.

Much like in writing, I find myself shifting between the eagerness to write a great picture book, and the determination to make it happen. Pigloo, eager to visit the North Pole, lets nothing stand in his way—even if it means patiently waiting for it to snow first! Yet in carefully planning out his steps for the trip (i.e. gathering the appropriate attire and packing enough snacks—or “stores” in explorer lingo), Pigloo eventually finds that although the journey seems immense (or in his case, the Hill), his determination to succeed wins in the end.

So much of this story resonates with me as a writer, and really, with many aspects of my life. We all find ourselves at some point planning out the steps it will take for us to get from A to B—whatever A to B means to us. In the world of book making, it may mean going from writing a book, to publishing one, or perhaps even just from starting a book to completing that first draft. Whatever it is, we need to have a plan in place, which we can look to, and rely on, even if it changes occasionally. (Oh, and by the way, if it does change, that’s okay!) And no plan is the “right” one either; it’s just the plan that works for us at that time. You can hopefully find comfort in that.

Oh, and this whole thing about patience—yeah, well, we all know how difficult that can be. No one ever said the journey to writing or illustrating a great book was quick! So it’s fairly certain we will need to hold onto that virtue throughout our creative endeavors. But hey, what’s that old saying?—“Nothing worth having comes easy.” Keep that in mind while you’re working on your plan, and know that the steps to get there may seem massive, but the journey will be worth it in the end. (At least, this is what I tell myself.) 🙂

Laura Marinakos joined SCBWI in February of 2017, and finds being part of such an incredible community both motivating and inspiring. She is a lover of children’s literature, writing, and coffee. Laura studied children’s literature while going for her Master’s at Penn State, and recently took Susanna Leonard Hill’s course, “Making Picture Book Magic,” which she found wonderful! Writing is not new to Laura, as she has spent the last ten years working in Marketing related jobs, where a primary part of her roles have included writing, editing, and proofreading. Laura is enjoying her new journey toward hopefully one day publishing a great picture book. Right now, however, she is just having fun with the whole process! Laura lives in Eastern PA with her husband, two girls (ages 1 and 3), and stepson (age 16).

Posted in Practical Advice, summer reading, writing goals | Tagged , , , , , | 10 Comments

Attention, Dj’s! It’s The Summer 2017 EPA SCBWI Playlist! by Lindsay Bandy

record_player_03Music and inspiration are inseparable for me. Words, sounds, emotion, movement, color, memory, image, rhyme, phrasing, voice, mood….ah yes, my love for music is second only to my love of writing. For every project I’m working on, I have a *secrety* Spotify playlist that relates in one way or another to my theme, mood, characters, or conflict. I highly recommend this, because it’s fun! Imagine your book as a movie and you’re creating the soundtrack. Or imagine your main character or antagonist coming onto the stage to their very own theme song.

When I do Cafe Chats here on the blog, I like to ask my interviewees “What’s YOUR writing/illustrating theme song?” Not your book’s, or your character’s, or your villain’s, but YOURS, because the truth is, struggling through the crazy world of writing, illustrating, getting an agent, getting a contract, marketing, sales, competition, writer’s block, and rejection is one big glob of emotion. We go up, we go down, through major keys and minor keys and key changes. Sometimes we’re upbeat, other times achey-brakey, and maybe once in a while we go a little goth. We fall in love, we get dumped, we fall in love again. We hope, we lose, we persevere, we keep hoping. We fight, most often with ourselves. And then, there are those shiny moments when it all comes together. And for all of this, we need….a theme song. Wait, no…. how about a whole playlist?!?

So let’s do this! Put the songs that inspire you, uplift you, or even accompany your descent into a pint of Ben & Jerry’s in the comments. I’ll comb through the Cafe Chats and your comments to compile them all into a playlist we can share!

Here are a few of mine (hey, don’t judge…)

-Carry On by F.U.N.

-Shake it Out by Florence and the Machine

-The Climb by Miley Cyrus

-Roar by Katy Perry

Share yours in the comments and let’s create a killer playlist to get us through the ups and downs of the summer together!



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