First up was Building Great Sentences presented by Claire Rudolf Murphy. Claire showed us many different approaches to line editing and wordsmithing.
Some of the key takeaways from her presentation were:
- Look at both the order of your words within a phrase and your phrases within a sentence. Try different arrangements to see which one works best. Every different arrangement contains a slightly different meaning, and the most important word and/or phrase should usually come at the end.
- Nouns should be interesting and specific. Strong verbs activate a scene. Adverbial clauses can be used to great effect.
- Use other poetic devices for impact, including the Power of Two (rhythmic sound bites like teeny-weeny), the Rhythm of Threes, Paradox and Oxymoron, Reflecting Sounds, Caesura (a strong pause within a line), Alliteration, and Assonance (repetition of vowel sounds).
- Building Great Sentences: How to Write the Kinds of Sentences You Love to Read (Great Courses) by Brooks Landon, and
- Word Magic for Writers by Cindy Rogers
Next up was The Hidden Architecture of Compelling Nonfiction with Mary Cronk Farrell.
Mary says that although structure and form may seem boring, having a strong narrative arc helps readers connect with nonfiction and allows us to touch not only the minds of young readers but their hearts as well.
Mary reminded us that there are two pillars of every story: the action (what happens) and the emotion (why we care). What sparks emotions are small, but specific, details.
Mary shared examples from her award-winning nonfiction book for teens, Pure Grit. She showed us how almost every detail came from a different source, but then she synthesized them all into a single, compelling narrative.
How does a nonfiction writer turn a humongous pile of research into a well-put-together book? We have to find the narrative arc first, then we can choose the specific details that will spotlight the necessary moments in that arc. The form is necessary to make meaning from the mess.
To find that form, Mary recommends trying different things to see what works. Pay close attention to what drew you to the story in the first place and emphasize that in your arc. And most of all, trust your gut!
Thank you so much to Mary and Claire for coming from the other side of the state to talk to us! We so appreciated the lessons they shared and the wise words of wisdom gleaned from both of these fine writers.
Also, thank you to Milagros Welt for the amazing Valentine's Day-themed snack spread!