Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Keynote address by Bruce Coville 8/1/08

The first speaker at the SCBWI conference after the introductions of the faculty was by Bruce Coville... I must admit, being new to the industry I am only now learning the who's who, and who does what in the industry. So I listen intently and take notes and make use of the references made available to me before and after the conference. Again, where possible and appropriate, I've added an active link... so you can explore as you wish...Bruce Coville

The Art of the Heart: Writing True for the Child

noting a Shakespeare Society of America – ritual disrobing, Bruce began his address by getting comfortable,... taking off his jacket and rolling up his shirt sleeves. In a pleasant and contemplative voice he acknowledged the audience and the gathering of the tribe – one is missing – Sue Alexander (the co-founder of SCBWI who suddenly passed away in the beginning of July)

We are part of A lonely thing – with 1000 people, who make their living telling lies to little children

“look at me” – in a quiet way – a giant attention getting speech

He subtly reminded us that we were about to embark on 4 days that just might change your life – have an open mind – open heart –

If you are asking: Should I be a writer?

Well, if you come home and have had one of “those day” edgy experiences…. Both you and your significant other are the same – pushing the buttons of crankiness…. with the full knowledge that you should not say these things… and then think to yourself "MMMMmmm… this is good stuff" (content for a book or scene)…

are you willing to converse with strangers – and tell you life story (of embarrassing moments of your family) ???

NOT GETTING RICH - we all hope for, but know that it is not why we are here... (JK is the exception)

Reach the Hearts of children – that’s the direction we are all heading... or should be heading.


Why are you here? – why? Why do you want to write for children… my heart is filled with stories… Why? Push that “why” to the next level… deeper and deeper into the level of Why?

Fully understand what you are doing, because the children in America are in a state of crisis.

Stages – one – the child as economic contributor to the family – contribute with hard work, heart warming… it wasn't asked of.. it was expected... and just part of the family dynamic.

After WWII – economic prosperity to – Object of Love – child is now doted on – want for a better life… lots of attention… the work wasn’t crucial

Third stage – 5 – 15 years ago – Keep the economy moving by being consumers – BUY STUFF culture. But not necessarily good for the heart.

Secret to happiness: Real work that you love (Catherine Hepburn reference)

Kids are NOT expected to help.

Kids want to be contributing

Kids want heroes – that’s how we create ourselves

Take on their personalities - emulate the characters they have a connection with, or want to have a connection with.

Where to find good role models: in Children’s books

Who do I want to be like? Invite people we want to be like…

7 deadly sins: are the motivators


Gluttony – if you are not… you are not in the right business,


Sloth – sit down and do the work, ASS GLUE,

Wrath – Cherish your wrath – it’s a great motivator

Envy – ref. Harry Potter – WHY (jkr)NOT ME, GOD?

Pride – Be Proud of our Work

Bruce’s seven sins

Dullness – defines where the story begins

Repetition – repeating yourself – we don’t want to rip off HP, but if you have anything like it……. Make a trend, don’t follow it.

Cliché – slide off the mind of the reader – it’s too easy – Find them and re-write them

Sloth – not working at your best… (it’s so easy) exceed expectations – give more than they are expecting -

Inattention- not thinking it through – if A, then B…. but B is the start of C, D, E and so on…. What happens next? Where do all the ripples go? All the implications, all the details

Perfectionism – the enemy of achievement – throttles creativity – Let go and let someone read the draft…. Work and avoid the fear… First Draft – cut away everything that is NOT the subject….

Clumsiness – where does the story begin (Lack of craft) – master the craft – misplaced modifiers – READ IT OUT LOUD… DOES IT MAKE SENSE

7 heavenly virtues – transposed for writers

1: Passion – Great work comes from passion

2: Temperance / sensuousness – loving descriptions of the sensuous world / 3 out of 5 senses should be engaged… texture and style to pull in the reader

3: Wisdom – what have I done? What have I learned / take a sheet of paper into 6 boxes/ columns: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 (elementary grade memories for each level) recall and access those ideas… / find that the bulk of the responses are BAD… we are hard wired to remember what went wrong… and LEARN… - - - don’t touch a hot iron theory – and learns – every day doors close in children’s hearts, it is our job to KICK those doors open… have courage in our own writing… write down those 6 stories

4: Guile – the magician’s trick – “look” bamboozle and pop the “deceit” and “Darth Vader / “Luke, I am your father”

6: courage – be Bold in what we do / that’s sounds scary, I better do it – don’t be afraid of rejection – forget your ego… no editor has raced to your one’s house and smacked down as you open the door. When you get to the cliff – jump – you may get wings… Let go and GO… reach inside and pull out the painful story. Take advantage of your fears…

7: Joy – is the birthright of a child – make a child happy – it is all around us – celebrate every day joys and help children see those moments and experience them. The joy should be in the process as writers. Live through the “oatmeal” days to get to the screaming while you write JOY days.

5: humor – God has humor – why did he put the playground and the plumbing so close together.

Joy is not Cheap - Joy is Free!!! We are born with tears… create Laughter to bring out those tears.

But our first emotion after birth is laughter…

Humor is a high achievement… to act with JOY is celebrate . not react to fear.

Long Term – the story tellers start the “ideas” that become real events

Story tellers – the stories are what survive in our memories –

Create Empathy though stories – learn skills through our characters – loneliness, live someone else’s story

Plot, Structure, character development---- but more important – capture the hearts of children

Humanlessness is a “humorless” act.


May you write with joy, passion, and courage, may your words dance across the page, may it be heart-affirming work…


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