UV Masterclass report, part 3

This year’s Undiscovered Voices preparations are bigger than ever with our very first UV Masterclass series proving hugely popular. But if you missed out, don’t panic! Here’s a breakdown to clue you in.

Our final report focuses on HOOKING YOUR READER FROM THE START, which saw editor and author Catherine Coe and author and screenwriter Simon James Green discussing how to polish those opening lines, including dispelling the most common myths about openings and highlighting the key components your openings really do need.

Hooking your reader from the start

What were the common myths? You’ve heard them all before: avoid exposition, start with action, make sure your first line sparkles and never, ever, ever use a prologue. I know what you’re thinking. Should you now ignore these conventions? Not exactly. They’re just not necessarily absolutes, nor should each be taken to extremes.

Lights, Camera, Exposition

With exposition, readers don’t want to see lots of clunky backstory, but they do need to know some details, otherwise it’s confusing. Exposition should come naturally. Trust your writing to be strong enough so you don’t need to cram the twists and turns into your opening.

Action’s great to start with, but don’t be fooled by the word action. It doesn’t necessarily have to be something physical. E.g. Alan Garner’s The Owl Service merely has the children hearing something in the attic. It’s intrigue we want. Physical action might work brilliantly for some genres but not for all, so try your best to interpret this into something appropriate for your story.

If a prologue is key to your story, if you absitively posolutely have to have it, then why not just name it Chapter One? And a sparkly first line? Really, the whole book really needs to sparkle. If it does, you won’t need to worry about the first line. Sounds easy, doesn’t it?

So, what’s the big idea of dispelling myths you’ve worked so hard to adhere to? It’s all about not letting yourself get bogged down trying to follow rules, but instead using your common sense to write your story with these conventions as guidelines.

That’s what not to do. Here are the six key components every opening should have:

One – Start in the right place

Start where your story really starts. You’ve heard it before, I’m sure, yet aspiring writers continually make this mistake. Get to your inciting incident ASAP. It doesn’t have to start where it starts in your head.

Two – How are you going to say it?

Voice! Oh, I know, you’ve had that feedback before. It is key though. The voice of your character, narrator and your voice as the author all have to shine through. Isn’t that why you love your favourite writers so much

Three – Get under the skin of your characters

Use your characters to create engagement and connection. You have to know your characters inside out, but we don’t need every detail on the page. We can see brushstrokes in their actions and reactions, but again, this should feel natural. Don’t list their traits. It’s a classic show, don’t tell situation.

Four – Everyone should know where they are

Setting is vital. Just because you can see it in your head, doesn’t mean your reader can. Your setting is likely as important as your characters, so use it.

Five – Making sure you keep the reader reading

How do you? Intrigue! You need to think about how you begin and end your chapters, the pacing of your story and how to hook the reader to keep turning those pages.

Six – Give us enough clues to know what we’re reading!

It’s important to give a sense of genre to your writing. It helps our judges (and your readers) understand where your story falls and what might come next. Conventions are useful but again, not absolutes. They can be broken, but that’s all part of your intrigue.

And, lastly…

One final brilliant tip from our wonderful Benjamin Scott regarding your 50-word bio. Re-visit the previous anthologies (all free to download) and read some. You want the judges to be interested in you and see that you take your writing seriously. Think about how you present yourself.

There you have it. All three of our amazing Undiscovered Voices Masterclasses in a nutshell. So, what’s stopping you? Get to work!

Good luck and remember, it’s supposed to be fun!

Don’t miss the great tips in our UV masterclass report, part 1 on Titles That Sell and part 2 on Writing your Synopsis.

Andrew James is originally from the Lake District and teaches English, Film and Media. He completed his MA in Children’s Literature at Goldsmiths in 2018 and for the past five years, he has organised and hosted monthly agent pitch evenings for his local writing group. He has a passionate dislike for anything referred to as an ‘easy peeler.’ Satsumas are the only way to go.

SCBWI-BI Kicks Off Its Eighth Undiscovered Voices Anthology

Once again SCBWI British Isles plans to help fresh, new voices in children’s literature find agents and publishers through its Undiscovered Voices project. New this year is a series of free and low-cost events to help writers prepare their submissions.

The Undiscovered Voices anthology will include at least twelve fiction extracts – from early readers to young adult novels – from SCBWI members in the UK and EU. The anthology will be published in January 2022 and sent free of charge to editors and agents whose focus is children’s literature. The book is produced with the financial support of Working Partners Ltd, a London-based company that creates series fiction.

Authors and illustrators from the seven previous anthologies have received publishing contracts for more than 400 books and have been nominated for or won more than 160 literary prizes, including the Carnegie Medal, Waterstone’s Children’s Book Prize, Branford Boase Award, Blue Peter Award, the SCBWI Crystal Kite Award, and more than 30 regional awards.

Deadlines

Submissions will be accepted between 14th June and 18th July 2021 via an online submissions process. There is no submissions fee, but only unagented and unpublished members of SCBWI living in the UK and Europe (writing in the English language) are eligible.

Judges

Four UK literary agents and three editors comprise the stellar judging panel for Undiscovered Voices 2022:

  • Davinia Andrew-Lynch, literary agent and the founder of the boutique agency ANDLYN
  • Megan Carroll, literary agent at Watson, Little Ltd
  • Sarah Davies, founder and agent at Greenhouse Literary Agency
  • Jane Griffiths, editorial director at Penguin Random House Children’s Books
  • Sarah Levison, senior commissioning editor at Farshore Books
  • Yasmin Morrissey, commissioning editor at Scholastic
  • Jo Williamson, literary agent at Antony Harwood Ltd
Honorary Chair

We are thrilled to announce that Patrice Lawrence, an award-winning writer for children, teenagers and adults, will be the honorary chair for Undiscovered Voices 2022. Her books include Orangeboy, (shortlisted for the Costa Children’s Book Award and winner of the Bookseller YA Prize and Waterstones Prize for Older Children’s Fiction), Indigo Donut (winner of Bristol Crimefest YA Prize and shortlisted for the Bookseller YA prize), Rose, Interrupted and Eight Pieces of Silva (Winner of Woman and Home Teen YA). All four books have been nominated for the Carnegie Award. She was a 2020 Costa Book Awards judge and is a judge for the Little Rebels Children’s Book Award for Radical Fiction.

Undiscovered Voice Events
Free Zoom Kick-Off Event on 22 April 2021 from 7:30 – 8:30 p.m.

This event will be a panel discussion with the judges, who will offer valuable advice for those planning to submit to the anthology. To attend, you must be a member of SCBWI in the UK or EU.

Three 90-Minute Masterclasses
8 May – Titles that Sell

Freelance editor Jenny Glencross will discuss how to craft a title to capture the attention of readers with Dani Wilson from Simon & Schuster’s Children’s sales team.

15 May – Writing a Synopsis

Author/editor Benjamin Scott will share the secrets of how to summarize a novel into the 75-word synopsis required for each UV submission.

22 May – Hooking Your Reader from the Start

Editor/author Catherine Coe and author/screenwriter Simon James Green will discuss how to polish those opening lines so readers are compelled to read on. 

Each session will run from 10 – 11:30 a.m. and contain practical advice and hands-on exercises as well as the opportunity for a selection of writers to share their work and receive feedback. The cost for all three sessions is £30. Free places will be available for writers who are financially disadvantaged or underrepresented in children’s publishing.

You will be able to book UV events on the SCBWI-BI web site soon.

For more details on how to submit and to sign up for news and updates about Undiscovered Voices, visit www.undiscoveredvoices.com