Society of
Children's Book Writers
and Illustrators

2019 Orlando: Saturday Workshops Agendas + Homework


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Picture Book: Emma Ledbetter, Brian Floca, Laurent Linn, and Alma Fullerton

8:30 – 9:00 AM: MAIN CONFERENCE WELCOME (All attendees will meet in the large room before breaking out into separate workshops.)


9:15 – 10:05 AM: ALMA FULLERTON

Getting a Grip on emotions: 

Alma Fullerton will talk about using emotions to draw your readers into the story and make them care about your characters.

10:05 – 10:20 AM: BREAK

10:20 – 11:10 AM: EMMA LEDBETTER

Let’s Be Honest: Crafting Frank and Perceptive Stories for Picture Book Readers

In this session, we’ll take a look at what makes picture books truthful, genuine and engaging: from nonfiction that is fun, fresh, and appropriate to fiction that is authentic and honest. We’ll cover elements like tone, writing style, and focus—and we’ll have some story time, too!


Noon – 1:00 PM: LUNCH

1:00 – 1:50 PM: LAURENT LINN

Creating Ideas from What Matters to YOU

Meaningful picture books that resonate and reflect the uniqueness and particular creativity of the writers and illustrators who create them, not market trends or perceived “popular” themes or what’s been published before. By exploring your own unique passions, curiosities, and view of the world, you may discover an idea never seen before.

1:50 – 2:40 PM: BRIAN FLOCA

From the Earth to the Moon

Brian Floca will discuss career paths, finding ideas, research, rough drafts, dead ends, more research, storyboards, dummies, revising, making final art, more revising, sharing a studio, and trying to let go.

2:40 – 2:55 PM: BREAK


3:30 – 4:00 PM: Q&A

4:00 – 4:45 PM: MAIN CONFERENCE WRAP-UP (All attendees will meet in the large room directly following our Workshop for wrap-up.)


*For possible critique in front of the group (we will not have time to critique all): Please bring a first page of a picture book manuscript to the workshop. The page should be double spaced with 12-point type and one-inch margins. OR— Submit one original illustration appropriate for picture books as a jpeg in advance to Dorian at by May 20. Please choose either a first page to bring the day-of or an illustration to submit in advance. First pages and art images should not have your name on them.

Also, for the in-class exercises, please bring your laptop or paper and pens/pencils to write and/or draw on.



Middle Grade: Margaret Mincks and Bonnie Bader


Diving into Middle Grade Fiction

Bonnie Bader & Margaret Mincks

8:30-9:00 AM:     All groups meet in large room before breaking out into separate workshops.

9:00-9:10 AM:     INTRODUCTIONS

9:10-9:30 AM:     SESSION 1: Testing the Waters: What is Middle Grade?

What exactly is Middle Grade? There is young middle grade, middle middle grade, and upper middle grade. Find out about the different lanes and which one (or ones) you want to swim in.

9:30-10:00 AM:    SESSION II: The Starting Block: The Importance of Strong Plotting and Setting

What happens? Where does it happen? A strong plot and setting are essential ingredients to any good book. Learn how to enhance your plot and setting and build a rich, believable story.

10:00-10:15 AM:    Writing Exercise

10:15-10:30 AM:     Break

10:30-11:15 AM:     SESSION III: In the Deep End: Creating Compelling Middle Grade Characters

A lot of successful Middle Grade books have compelling characters who stay with you no matter how hard you try to shake them away. Learn how to create unique details for your characters and discover what is important – and not so important – for supporting characters.

11:15-Noon          Activity & Writing Exercise 

Noon-1:00 PM:    Lunch

1:00-1:45 PM:      SESSION IV: Adult Swim vs. The Kiddie Pool: Straight Talk on Dialogue

Kids are smart. They can tell when you are trying to talk like them and will tell you when you are failing miserably. Dialogue can make or break your book. In this session, Bonnie and Margaret will give you some tips and advice.

1:45-2:15 PM:      Activity & Writing Exercise

2:15-2:30 PM:      Break


3:15-3:45 PM:      SESSION V: Make a Splash: Grab the Reader and Don’t Let Go

A few words – or sentences – on opening lines.

3:45-4:00 PM:      Q&A

All groups will meet in large room directly following Q&A for wrap-up.


  1. Bring in your work-in-progress Middle Grade book.
  2. Bring in a hardcopy of the first page of your Middle Grade book, without your name on it, for possible critique in front of the group during the First Page Critiques.
  3. EXTRA CREDIT: Come to class with your favorite, actual kid quotes – any sentences, slang, or observations that give a taste of how kids in the real-world talk.                             


Young Adult: Eric Smith, Hannah Milton, and Deborah Halverson

8:30-9:00 AM: General assembly. (All groups in large room before workshops start at 9.)

9:00-10:00 AM: Hannah Milton – “From First Lines to First Chapters: Crafting the Perfect Beginning How to craft a beginning that will immediately capture the attention of agents, editors, and readers.

10:00-10:45 AM: Deborah Halverson – “Crafting Swoon-Worthy YA Romantic Relationships.” Techniques and strategies for crafting romantic characters and relationships that are rich, real, and riveting (and that may include some hubba hubba).

10:45-11:00 AM: Break

11:00-11:45 AM: Eric Smith – “Mastering the Query Letter: The Hook, the Book, the Cook.” How to make PERFECT query letters and why hooks are important.

11:45-Noon:  First page critiques – Hannah, Eric, and Deborah (Bring anonymous first page for possible critique in front of group. Standard format, though you may start at the top of the page.)

Noon-1:00 PM: Lunch

1:00-2:00 PM: Deborah Halverson – “Subtext & Subplots: How to Deepen & Energize Your YA/MG Fiction.” Techniques for using subtext and subplots to build rich, satisfying stories and fix common storytelling “problems.”

2:00-2:15 PM: Break

2:15-3:00 PM: Hannah Milton – “Inside the Mind of an Editor” Learn what editors are thinking as they read through your manuscript, and how to use that knowledge to craft a must-read story.

3:00-3:45 PM: Eric Smith – “The Art of Researching Agents & Editors.” How to research beyond Google and social media to identify agents and editors that are right for your projects.

3:45-4:00 PM: Q&A

4:00-4:45 PM: General assembly. (All groups in large room.)



Retell Me a Story: Retelling Classic Tales: Alex Flinn and Lauren Smulski (For middle grade and young adult.)

8:30 – 9:00

 9:00 – 9:10

All groups meet in large room before breaking out into separate workshops.


9:10 – 9:55 SESSION I: Getting Started on Your Retelling

Does your story need to be retold and why? What elements of the old story appeal to you? What elements are outdated? What elements bother you, and would that be the basis for a story? Are there modern themes that could be addressed in a classic tale? Also, what is in the public domain, and what isn’t? In this session, we’ll discuss how to get started on your novel.


9:55 – 10:15




10:15 – 10:30




10:30 – 11:15 SESSION II: World Building. World building is often thought of as something that’s only needed for speculative fiction, particularly sci-fi and fantasy. However, describing the details and defining the “rules” of your world are crucial steps to take when writing any story, even contemporaries set in “our” world and the present day. In this session, we will discuss the different needs for world building in contemporary vs. speculative fiction, and how to build a “bible” that will outline the parameters of the world in your story.


11:15 – Noon






Noon – 1:00




1:00 – 2:15


SESSION III: Plotting Your Retelling. The original was popular because of its great story – or maybe not. Maybe it was told in some old-fashioned way that wouldn’t work for modern readers. Regardless, your retelling needs a strong plot, whether you are going to keep the “shape” of the original story, use the premise as a jumping-off point for a new story, or continue the story from where the old one left off. We’ll discuss the elements of plot and do a group plot exercise.

2:15 – 2:30




2:30 – 3:15 FIRST PAGE CRITIQUES (Bring in an anonymous first page for possible critique in front of the group.)


3:15 – 3:45 SESSION IV: Market Talk With Lauren. Retellings will always have a place in the market, but some classic stories have been retold over and over again. Others may have never been retold, but agents and editors may not get on board unless your retelling has a particular “hook” or element that will resonate with a mainstream audience. In this session, we’ll discuss trends in the market, the potential for “oversaturation,” how to make sure your retelling is unique and different, and how to identify “this meets that” comps that will pique the interest of agents and editors.

3:45 – 4:00




*For a possible first page critique by presenters during the session, bring in an anonymous first page of a manuscript, 12 pt., double-spaced, starting at the top of the page.

*Please read and learn about three fairy or folk tales or Greek/Roman myths that have not been made into full-length Disney movies. Choose your favorite, and see if there are any other versions out there (such as from a different culture). If you don’t have a book of fairy tales, you can check out However, a book of Grimm’s complete fairy tales is a good investment and can usually be found on the bargain tables at Barnes and Noble or as an e-book such as this one below, for a very low price ($3.99 in e-book format):




How Screenwriting Can Improve Your Novel: Greg Pincus and Elizabeth Law

9:00-9:10 AM: Introductions and Overview

9:10-10:00 AM:  Structure: What screenwriters know about setting a character’s goals, mapping pace, and using last-act reversals. We’ll look at how to use these tools in your novels to keep a reader turning pages.

10:00-10:15 AM: Writing Exercise/Writing Time

10:15-10:30 AM:  Break

10:30-10:45 AM:  Posterize It – a movie poster is another “big picture” way of looking at your story. Imagining your novel’s “poster” in advance can be exceedingly helpful in keeping your writing on track, helping you hone your hook, and help you pitch your story succinctly and powerfully.

10:40-11:45 AM:  Making a Scene – using clips from movies, we’ll break down the who, what, when, where, and why of how a screenwriter makes a scene work for the screen and how you can use the same tricks to make every scene in your novel keep your story moving forward.

11:45-Noon: Writing Exercise

Noon-1:00 PM:  Lunch

1:00-2:00 PM:  Scene Sequences – again using examples from movies, we’ll break down how a screenwriter strings scenes together and how to use the same approach to keep your novel reader always wanting to see what comes next.

2:00-2:45 PM:  Revision: Revising is more than checking off an editor’s comments, it’s inquiring and deepening your work. Here’s what the pros do that can work for you.

2:45-3:00 PM:  Break

3:00-3:45 PM: First pages or scenes written today: sharing your work, getting and giving feedback.*

3:45-4:00 PM:  Q+A and Final Thoughts

*For this workshop you may bring in the first two pages of an anonymous manuscript for possible critique in front of the group.