Post by Mari Boyle, Tokyo, Japan
At the recent Creative Exchange on May 25, 2019, it was wonderful to see so many participants. I’ve been attending these meetings regularly over the past few years and have never been disappointed with the level of talent and the sheer enthusiasm of the writers and illustrators who take part.
I often find there are general themes which seem to go through these meetings. This time, myths, traditional story styles and the natural world seemed to be popular, both in manuscripts and illustrations. Whilst the themes seemed to recur, there was diversity in the approaches that authors and illustrators took, with a mix of genres and categories, including fiction, non-fiction, stories in rhyme, choose-your-own adventure and a rather special artist’s book. The works up for discussion also covered the full age range of target readers, from picture books through YA novels.
Diversity was also present in the make-up of our group, in gender, age and ethnicity, which makes for a rich cross section of viewpoints. We had quite a few first time participants on this occasion, too. It takes courage to show your work to a group of ‘strangers’ and ask for their opinion. However, everyone was eager to hear views on their work with open minds, resisting the temptation to jump in immediately to protect their characters or their work.
As a writer, I find that the questions people ask are a vitally important part of the critique process. If someone is asking why something did or did not happen, why a character behaved in a particular way, or says they “just didn’t get it,” I know it’s a red flag that something is missing. I need to add detail, re-evaluate my character’s behavior or try to make my plot and writing style clearer.
By sharing our work, we also get to see how engaging our stories, writing, or illustrations are when participants comment on what they like and raise questions about where the story is going. And on this occasion there was much to like. Additionally, there’s a great deal to learn from participants with more experience who generously share their craft knowledge on aspects such as character development, story arcs, plot devices and illustrator points. For those of us in the apprenticeship stages of writing or illustrating, this information is invaluable.
As a reader I found myself, as I so often do after these critique sessions, eager to see the next draft or the next chapter of everyone’s work. Hopefully I will get the opportunity at the next creative exchange. If you would like to join us for a creative exchange or one of our other events please check the SCBWI Japan calendar to see what’s on at japan.scbwi.org . You can also find us on Facebook or Twitter @SCBWIJapan or contact SCBWI Japan and request to join the SCBWI Japan General or Translation Group listserv and further the conversation.
Mari Boyle is a writer and a teacher.