Congratulations New England Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators! Celebrating forty-five years of influencing and encouraging quality children’s literature and capping it off with yet another fantastic Spring Conference for 2017. From the engaging and outrageously talented Key-Note Speakers, to the faculty, to the organizers, to the volunteers and participants. You all make it happen year-after-year. And year after year I benefit. So I say, Thank YOU!
In the past I have shared with Writers’ Rumpus many GEMS from the treasure trove that is the NESCBWI Spring Conference. This year I will focus on just one GEM that I stumbled upon.
“depth and substance the two most exquisite qualities. Be it in a poem or a person.” -Sanober Khan, writer.
It may be where I am in writing my own manuscript. Or in the manuscript I am critiquing. Or, it may be as simple as, this was the message I needed to hear and therefore, listened more carefully. But, the GEM I drew from the conference this year is DEPTH.
At first, I thought of depth as richness, adding more sensory detail, more authentic voice, more emotion. All without just adding more.
“What orators lack in depth they make up for in length.”-Charles de Montequieu, French Philosopher
But to me, the aha moment came when I realized that this more was not a layer on top or beneath the action. It’s not a layer at all. This more surrounds the story, it highlights the characters, it supports the dialogue. It is sometimes the most beautiful writing that doesn’t stand out, that goes unrecognized as such, because it draws the reader in so completely and propels us effortlessly forward to the next story element.
“Depth must be hidden. Where? On the surface.”-Hugo von Hofmannsthal, 19th century writer.
That is why for me the term Depth resonates beyond the richness it provides. I have written, and read, many truly awesome storylines: exciting, amorous, fascinating tales that I just knew were not yet ready to be published. For all their substance, these tales lacked that draw beyond the great storyline–that pull that reaches a reader’s soul and binds them to the action.
“I don’t read for plot, a story ‘about’ this or that. There must be some kind of philosophical depth rendered into the language,” -Rachel Kushner, author.
We need all the tools in our writing kits: sensory detail, emotion, voice, supporting characters, subplot, etc to accomplish this richness in our writing. Most importantly, we need to take the time to ask each and every character, in each and every action and thought, and every period of time in our story:‑ “What are you experiencing at this instant?”
Once identified, would this awareness inform the reader’s connection to the story? If yes, then how is that best accomplished? How fully can you engage your readers in this moment? How deeply can you draw them in? Be subtle, add depth not words.
“It is not the length of life, but depth of life.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson