Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Plots and Possibilities: Taking Cheryl Klein's Plot Master Class

The plot that was fine was not fine. 

Last month, my plot lines, in all their one-dimensional glory, spread across the pages of my work-in-progress. They seemed content. They were fine

Fast forward one month. I had the chance to attend Cheryl Klein's Plot Master Class in Sioux Falls, SD. During the class, odd things began happening to my manuscript. Certain story lines, tired of the murky depths I'd left them in, slogged their way to the surface. Two of my minor characters plead their case for more significant roles.  

My former one-dimensional plot lines pushed and stretched until they stood off the pages, like the three-dimensional peaks and valleys they wanted to be. 

It was eye-opening to say the least.

Things that are worth doing...

Second Sight. You can find it HERE.
Cheryl Klein is the Executive Editor at Arthur A. Levine Books, an imprint of Scholastic Books. I'd heard Ms. Klein speak at a conference in Miami and thought she was brilliant. I got a copy of her book Second Sight and enjoyed it very much.  When I learned she was teaching her Plot Master Class at a SCBWI-Dakotas event, I knew I had to go.  

After I registered, I got an email with some instructions attached. This would not be a typical, listen-and-learn conference setting. Nope. There was homework. 

If you can bookmap with 2 screens: BONUS.
To get the most out of Cheryl Klein's Plot Master Class, you need to do the assignments. She asked each participant to create a bookmap of their current WIP. This meant analyzing each scene (with special guidance, she sent us instructions). She also asked us to read Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork, an award-winning YA novel that she edited. Marcelo served as our touchstone read for examples through the bookmapping and work-shopping process. (sidenote: Marcelo in the Real World is amazing.)

The workshop itself ran two days. For two days, Ms. Klein helped us critically examine the different nuances of plot and structure, and how we could apply these theories to our very own WIPs. We also hit on characterization and voice. It forced me to really put the screws to my WIP--and it creaked. 

It was a little scary. My WIP suddenly fluttered with orange CAUTION! flags. Holes to fill. Themes to dredge. Characters to bolster. More fixes than I'd thought.

Missed Opportunities: Avoided. 

But on my three hour drive home, my head-spinning slowed, and excitement took over. I had real ideas for making  my manuscript better. Maybe much better. Every fluttering flag alerted me to a possible missed opportunity. I want kids to read this book and have fun.The adventure, the humor, the creepiness, the warm-fuzzy parts--I want these elements to be the best they can be. The bookmapping and work-shoppping made the path more clear. 

A most worthwhile journey indeed for this Revision Warrior.



Pamela Merchant, Regional Advisor for the SCBWI-Dakotas, was responsible for bringing Cheryl Klein to Sioux Falls. I asked Pam how she thought to bring the Plot Master Class to South Dakota:

"The reason I wanted to feature editor Cheryl Klein is to fill a void in our conference line-up for SCBWI-Dakotas. We tend to offer more workshops and speakers for picture book writers and illustrators, and often for beginning authors and illustrators. I felt we needed to focus on intermediate to published authors with a concentration on novel writing.

At the 2013 SCBWI national conference in New York the buzz was on Cheryl Klein and her editing workshop. Everyone was talking about her and how much they were learning from this co-editor of the last two Harry Potter novels. I contacted her at Scholastic and a year and a half later, we were able to host here here in the Dakotas." 

- Pamela Merchant, Regional Advisor SCBWI-Dakotas 

I want to say a big thanks to Pam for all the hard work she put into organizing this outstanding event. We attendees were all so fortunate Pam knew about this very buzz-worthy class. THANK YOU PAM!

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