Inspiration at the Austin SCBWI Conference

At the Austin SCBWI conference last weekend, author/illustrator E.B. Lewis pointed out that writers and and illustrators are the same people, all trying to create art the captures peoples’ imagination.

Whether we’re using paint or words, we’re both making pictures that tell stories. And those stories have to have a few things to be successful:

Drama: E.B. pointed out shadows create drama in pictures. In stories, it’s the shadows behind what people are saying, the subtext, the conflict.

Mystery: E.B. said pictures shouldn’t give you all the details, because if the brain has everything it’ll get bored and move on. Writers also want to give just enough detail for readers to understand but not so much that there’s no need for them to figure things out on their own. Readers, like art viewers, want to be able to interpret some of the details themselves.

Off-center composition: E.B. explained that the center of an image is the “not important” area; what’s important should be off-center. Similarly, a story shouldn’t have characters that are all centered (okay, maybe I’m stretching this a bit, but you get the point). Characters should be a little off-center, because real people are off center. No stereotypes because in real life, even the most stereotypical person has his or her own identity.

Dark and light: E.B. showed us that good picture composition contains three dark corners and one light. Stories don’t need that structure, but it’s good to have dark and light. Too much dark, and readers will be depressed. But equally, if everything goes too smoothly, what’s the point of the story?

One bit of advice that E.B. gave applies to everyone: “Love playing in the sandbox.” A good reminder that no book is brilliant in the first draft and the best art comes from experimentation.

So, embrace your inner artist, get your hands dirty and create.

Got any insights you’ve learned from a conference lately?

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2 thoughts on “Inspiration at the Austin SCBWI Conference

  1. I’ve been working on losing the dread adverbs. I made a pass through my novel for the following words. actually, definitely, even, extremely, just, really, so, totally, truly, very
    It’s time consuming getting rid of them, but I believe it makes the writing stronger.

  2. Hey Susan, Yes, you’re right. We lean on them way too much. I have a few others that I find I use too much. I don’t worry about them in the early drafts, but when I’m starting to polish, putting them in the Find option in Word is very useful.

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