Thursday, October 21, 2010

Writing Advice/Scene Shots with Novelist Selene Castrovilla

It is with the utmost pleasure that I welcome today's Guest Blogger, young adult novelist and author Selene Castrovilla. She is not only one of my oldest and best writing friends, but a conference circuit chum with whom I have enjoyed adventures reaching as far as Madrid, Spain!

I think we could fill several novels with our escapades alone (including Revolutionary War research in Tappan, journeys to Chautauqua, SCBWI Spain and so much more). Perhaps we'll save one of those stories for a future blog!

To this day, Selene remains one of my favorite friends to sit and chat about writing with. I'm glad to be able to share some of her thoughts and inspiration with you here.

SCENE SHOTS with Selene Castrovilla
When I was in the MFA program at The New School, my biggest concern was that the scenes weren’t coming out perfectly. I was good at raw emotion, but setting the “behind the scenes” and filling in the sensory details seemed beyond daunting! Luckily, one of my teachers was the fantastic novelist Jacqueline Woodson. It is a great thing to be able to sit with an author and quiz them on the making of their book. This is what I go to do with If You Come Softly. Straight to the point, I said: “Wow, your sensory details are so beautiful in this book. Did they just come flowing out of you?” She answered: “Naw. I added them later.” This was so freeing, to know that I didn’t have to get the whole scene right in one shot. I loosened up, and before I knew it – I was a novelist!

Here are some things that I’ve done/still do to help keep rolling:

  1. If you’re stuck: Take two of your characters who share some sort of tension and put them on an elevator together. Make the elevator break down. What happens next? (You can adjust this for any reader level – ie: two kids on the school elevator or assigned to detention. Any place where they’re confined.)
 2.  For general inspiration: Take a passage from your favorite book. What makes you love it? What did the author do to make you care? Did he or she use strong sensory details? Pick them out. Would the story affect you differently if the author used another character’s point of view? How so? Is the story in first or third person? What would it be like the other way? Now take out a passage of your own work and examine it. Does it move you? Why or why not? What can you do to make it stronger? The idea is to look at your own work critically rather than emotionally.

  1. During the revision process: Do a “sensory detail” check on each scene. Did you incorporate as many sensory details into the scene as possible? Make a checklist for smells, sounds, etc. What would/could be going on in the background of your setting? Fill it up for a satisfying read!
4. Keep writing!!! Read Bird By Bird By Anne Lamott. I keep it by my bed. Do a little bit each day – but do it each day! Consistency is your best friend!!!
Selene Castrovilla is an award-winning teen and children’s author. Her teen novels are Saved By the Music and The Girl Next Door. Her children’s books – both about little known events in the American Revolution – are By The Sword and Upon Secrecy. Selene holds an MFA in creative writing from New School University and a BA in English from New York University. She lives on Long Island with her two sons. Visit her website

About The Girl Next Door (WestSide Books, 2010):
Samantha and Jesse have been best friends since they were toddlers. When Jesse gets a devastating diagnosis, their friendship becomes tighter – and then  evolves into something more. This heartbreaking love story asks the question we all face: How do you cope in a world which at any moment may come crashing down?
Join Selene's Facebook pages:
Saved By the Music by Selene Castrovilla
&  The Girl Next Door.
Friend Selene on Facebook: Selene Bayrack-Castrovilla.
Watch the Book Trailer for The Girl Next Door:

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