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The WOW! factor

On Saturday June 5th, I attended the Twelfth Annual Shoreline SCBWI Conference. The topic this year was the cross pollination of fact and fiction in writing for young people—both in fiction and in nonfiction. The speakers were fabulous.

After a thoughtful introduction by Doe Boyle, laying the groundwork for the questions of the day, Dana Meachen Rau told us how she looks for the WOW! moment in facts to find things to write about in her hundreds of nonfiction titles. She advised us to discover what intrigues us and children, to ask questions about what our readers know and what we want the readers to know, and to find the truth in the story of our facts. Page McBrier walked us through her process of building stories from facts she researched in far flung places of the world, using her discoveries to tell truth in tales.

Stacy DeKeyser described how a fabulous summer vacation in the Dolomites gave her the groundwork that turned into a fantasy novel. While Jennifer Thermes showed us how the seeds of her work as an illustrator of maps brought her to new and interesting illustrating opportunities in picture books and middle grade novels. Finally Tony Abbott talked about writing novels in a way that makes them sound like fact, while writing compelling nonfiction using the tools of a novelist. (Listening to him read the first page and a half of Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood has forever changed my understanding of the power of settings in a book.)

The mantra for the day was to look for the WOW! factor in whatever you are writing about—what facts make you sit up and take notice. Then share them in the most compelling and truthful way possible, using the tools at your disposal.

Thank you Doe for organizing this wonderful annual event!

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