In London with Michelle Markel at an SCBWI master class

August 13, 2013 § Leave a comment

Join me in a land faraway,

on a cloudy English day.

I found my words did play

with more yay – than nay!

Okay! Enough of the rhyming!

My desire is to put you in a lively mood so you may feel a bit of what I learned on Saturday, April 13th as I joined the London SCBWI group for a Master Class workshop.  The presenter, Michelle Markel provided opportunities to play with words as she encouraged us to ‘Make Non-Fiction Rock!’

Michelle opened the day by asking us to share authors’ works we enjoy; then she gave us a quick reminder of what all writers have available in their toolbox.  Consider some of the basics: dialogue, setting, point of view, voice, and theme.  In addition, she showed us examples of how authors use the following: sensory imagery and concrete detail, metaphor, personification, repetition of sounds (alliteration, words and phrases) and rhythm.  This quick review proved fruitful as a foundation for the fun to follow!

After lunch Michelle interspersed published authors’ works with writing assignments based on prompts she supplied. Michelle’s power point slides detailed her insights culled from the following authors’ books and many other books as well: Swirl by Swirl by Joyce Sidman; From Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Briggs Martin;  Sara Emma Edmonds was a Great Pretender by Carrie Jones.

Michelle’s first assignment:  Using sensory language and action create a kid friendly description of an animal in action.

(To let you in on some of the frivolity of the day, I am giving you my drafts of what I produced on my handy HP touch pad.  My purpose is so you will be inspired to try these three exercises!)

I created a diva sounding character speaking to another character:

“You appear as a creature of mystery. You strut around making everyone wonder, ‘Who is that?’ Until they get a little closer and then, well…Take it from me at a distance, you could win any forest fashion contest. Your smooth coat is asking to be stroked. I love how your coat is all black like your beady eyes and how you make a fashion statement with the contrasting white. But, oh, honey, we gotta do something about that smell!”

Next Michelle suggested we imagine a force of nature-a season, fire or  water-personified.

My character tells how it feels:

“I am easily held in bondage yet I want to stretch out my arms and legs since I am cramped in here. I feel all confined in the stone surroundings that I did not ask for or create. I long to roam free. To see what awaits me outside the confines of this room. But my captor keeps my greatest enemy close so I am on a short leash. One quick move to escape and I will be doused with the dreaded H2O. Oh, what a world, what a world!”

In this final exercise, Michelle gave us an encyclopedia’s fact sheet on the Naked Mole Rat.  After reading a couple of paragraphs the idea was to share the information in an entertaining way.

I supplied the title and let the character tell all:

Tips on how to go vegan by Naked Mole Rat #84

“So you are considering a vegan diet. As you may know I live in a community of up to 300 others of my own kind. We literally spend all of our time tunneling with our incisor teeth through some very hard dry soil here in Africa to search for roots and tubers to eat. You should have a much easier time finding vegetables to eat than we do since our eyes are so small, we can hardly see. I wish I could tell you more, but the Queen expects us to keep working. No time for anything including time with my girlfriend Naked Mole Rat #87. Thanks for checking out my blog, Eat Naked. I will try to post tips soon on how we Naked mole Rats recycle our food. It puts a not-so-fresh spin on the term ‘leftover’.”

My biggest take away from the day?  When Michelle answered a question about her research for her picture book biographies, I especially like how she described her work.  While she does a lot of research, much of it she does not use of the back matter. Introductions to a subject are not meant to tell everything. They do not need to.  She stated “facts can detract from the emotional impact”.

For instance in her book about Henri Rousseau, her intention is that this book is an introduction to the person. In addition, some non-fiction is meant to be an introduction to a topic.  I like this concept; I can visualize in my mind that we are writing a book for younger students to be introduced to a concept or a person of interest.

Hopefully I have conveyed how entertaining it is to let loose writing non-fiction. Michelle is a founding member of The Children’s Authors Network and teaches classes in writing for young people for UCLA Extension’s Writer’s Program.

Here is our picture.  I am wearing my glasses and a grey sweater on the right side of the photo in the front row . Michelle is two down from me to the left wearing the blue sweater.



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