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August 10, 2010

Two For Tuesday: Wisdom from Gail Carson Levine

Kate Hart
What is it? Post two of anything: book reviews, pictures, quotes, poems, songs, videos, rants, shout outs, whatever floats your boat. Just connect them somehow. That's it.

Today: More from SCBWI!

Keynote speaker Gail Carson Levine, author of Ella Enchanted, gave a talk entitled "Sweat and Magic"-- and promptly informed us that it, like writing, would be 90% sweat. Here are two pieces of wisdom paraphrased from my notes.

ONE: When you get to a choice in your plot, make a list of possibilities. Nothing is stupid. After all-- a pumpkin turning into a cart is, at first glance, a ridiculously stupid idea. But if a storyteller hundreds of years ago hadn't had the courage to take that chance, our very culture would be different.

(No pressure or anything.)

TWO: The time for the big surprise in your story's universe is right away. The reader is ready for anything in the first chapter. If aliens land at the school on the second page, the reader will be okay with it, but if they land in the fourth chapter... maybe not so much.

ETA: Guest blogger Cherie l'Ecrivain at The Rejectionist has a semi-related post, in which she points out that readers are also more willing to accept "coincidence" and "fate" early in the story.

For more great info from Gail's speech, check out the SCBWI official conference blog.


  1. Kaitlin Ward pretty much stole my comment, so I'll just say ditto. Levine is one of the best children's authors ever.

  2. She was so fantastic! I loved the Cinderella story. So true.

    Must also revise my alien landing to be in chapter 1. *makes note*

  3. I like how she says it's okay to be random early on, but later in the novel, not so much. It's true too. Our readers get comfortable with the characters, plot and setting within the first 50 pages that anything that jolts that setting can pull them right out of the story.

  4. Great tips, thanks for posting! And thanks for your other round-ups of the conference :)

  5. I just updated the post with a semi-related post elsewhere that supports point #2, in case anyone is interested! :)


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