Saturday, February 5, 2011

Novel Writing Tips from Erin Murphy, Joyce Sweeney, and Krista Marino

As part of the SCBWI Miami conference, I attended a "Novel Writing Intensive" led by literary agent, Erin Murphy; Executive Editor, Krista Marino; and writing instructor, Joyce Sweeney.

Erin Murphy talked about the art of revision. She advised us to see our manuscripts with fresh eyes. She shared the following tips to help:
  • Apply Darcy Pattison's shrunken manuscript technique.
  • Outline after you've written a first draft.
  • Employ the nine steps for plotting fiction (found on Verla Kay)
  • Use to look for overused words.

Joyce Sweeney started by telling writers to "be in scene almost all the time." She advised using the first part of a scene to orient the reader (e.g. who, what, when, where). She asked us to consider what each particular scene means to the novel as a whole. To remember that each chapter needs its own arc.

Krista Marino lectured about voice. There are two kinds: authorial voice, which she defined as the fingerprint of an author, think Stephen King and Meg Cabot. The second kind is narrative voice, which she called "the character's voice."

Elements that contribute to voice include:

  • Diction - Word choices.
  • Perspective - Mental view.
  • Characterization - Appearance, age, gender, education level, ambitions, motivations.
  • Dialogue

Krista said the #1 element missing from most manuscripts she receives is interior monologue. She read us a passage from REVOLUTION by Jennifer Donnelly without interior monologue, and then she read the same passage with the interior dialogue inserted. The manuscript was much richer and more interesting with the right amount of interiosity included.

Krista reminded us that when you're young everything feels like the end of the world. She said to write effectively for teens, we should erase adult perspective and in our minds go back to high school everyday. We need to actually listen to teens to get their dialogue just right.

The workshop provided lots of great tips, and I'm summarizing an entire days worth of notes. If anything is unclear, post a question and I'll try and answer it.

Happy Writing!


  1. It was a great intensive wasn't it? I came away so excited and invigorated with my own writing.

  2. I thought it was superb. Conferences are a great way to recharge our motivational batteries.

  3. Thanks for the information. It's very appreciated.

  4. Thanks, Cat. If you haven't read REVOLUTION by Jennifer Donnelly, I highly recommend it. I had read it prior to the conference, but now plan to reread it after listening to Krista Marino talk about it.

  5. Shannon,

    I tried the shrunken mss technique (I've done something similar suggested in another workshop--but not shrunken, and it was helpful) but trying to read the mss. in a tiny type to highlight it gave me a headache!

    I've read a couple of Jennifer Donnelly books and enjoyed them. I'll have to pick up REVOUTION.

  6. I really enjoyed this workshop. Tons full of information to take away and put towards novel projects. I particularly loved it when Krista Marino read the REVOLUTION paragraphs with and without the interior dialogue. Could really see it in action.

    Great recap. :)

  7. Hi Anita, I'm sort of cheating on shruken manuscript. I've condensed my novel to about 30 pages so that I can still read it, but it feel more manageable.

  8. Hi Karen, I agree with you about when Krista Marino read both versions of REVOLUTION. However, I must confess, I'm having a hard time applying it to my own writing. I don't seem to have mastered the knack. Mine feels tacked on and like it slows the story. I have to keep working on it.

  9. Great post, Shannon! I've never heard of, but since I tend to overuse words, I'll have to check this out. Thanks!

  10. I hadn't heard of before the conference. Erin Murphy is a wealth of good information

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