SCBWI Conference Highlight: Mining Your Past

Shovel Pick

Guest Post by Lynn Coulter

The regional SCBWI conferences are known for providing attendees with an opportunity to meet and learn from other amazing authors, agents, and editors. This year’s Southern Breeze SpringMingle lived up to the reputation.

The writer’s intensive was led by the talented Meg Medina. Her session focused on how authors can tap into their own past to create strong characters and rich stories. The exercises were aimed at having each person dig deep and uncover memories that a story could be built around. Medina stressed that each person needed to be really honest because, as she put it, growing up is tough and writers need to tell the truth.

Each writer was led through this emotional journey by a set of writing prompts. One prompt was to finish this sentence; “I come from…”

To give you an example, I’ll tell you where I come from. “I come from dirt-poor grandparents who lived in Alabama and dropped out of elementary school to help farm the family land. I come from a father who was the first person in the family to graduate from college (and he could afford it only because of the GI Bill).” This was my truth.

Others shared their personal experiences and each was a unique story. Every past feeling, events, and actions are scenes that can play out in the lives of the characters we create. In doing this, our stories will resonate deeper with our readers. 

Each prompt took the group into a different time in their lives, a memories that were flecks of gold to be used in our stories. The intensive ended with one last prompt: “Write your autobiography in just six words.”

People in Meg’s class began to open up slowly, opting to share memories that weren’t all lollipops and rainbows. Meg gave us one last prompt. “Write your autobiography in just six words,” she said.

Whether we’re writing about sunny times or desperate ones, Medina reminded us that we’re still every age we ever were. The preschooler, the adolescent, the middle-grader, or the young adult: they’re all still alive in our heads and hearts. Use her prompts to nudge or jolt your memories. Reach deep inside to find emotional connections that will grab your readers.

Lynn is a freelancer and the author of 3 books for adults. Her agent at Dystel & Goderich is currently circulating her first MG novel. She lives with her family and rescue dogs in the Atlanta area. To get to know Lynn, visit her website and follow her on Twitter.


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