5 Storytelling Tips from the Great and Powerful DiTerlizzi

Summary: A few highlights gathered from Tony DiTerlizzi’s presentations at the 2012 SCBWI International Conference in LA.

This is my second post from this past SCBWI conference in LA. I can’t emphasis enough what a charge this experience was for me. After a few years of poking around, I really felt like I’d found a group of people who were into the same stuff as I am. It was amazingly refreshing and keeps me motivated even now! If you are curious, you can check out my first blog post “5 Days In LA”.

The Call to Wond-LA

I’ll make no bones about it, the key speaker that got me to spend the not too insubstantial quantity of money to go to LA was Tony DiTerlizzi. I knew that he was going to be the keynote speaker in LA when my friend and fellow illustrator Jenny Parks and I had taken the long and arduous journey waaay across the Bay Bridge to go see a presentation that Tony was giving at a local book store there. After hearing what he had to say, and meeting him ever so briefly, I went straight home and committed myself to going to LA. I knew that there was no way I was going to miss this opportunity!

In LA, Tony ended up giving a keynote address, doing a break-out session, and a presentation at the Illustrator’s Intensive on Monday. Like many others, I was at all three.

Recently I read on his blog post about this conference, that he was surprised by the people taking notes there. I was totally that guy in the front row, scribbling like mad in my sketchbook with some far flung hope that a drop or two of what ever magic he infuses into his work might make it’s way into my notes. And, in reviewing my notes for this post, I believe that I gleaned a few flecks of gold there.

What’s the Idea Here?

There’s just no way… well, ok, there is a way that I could write every bit of information that Tony talked about, but would you really want to read that? So, what I have to offer you are a few flecks of gold that really stood out to me.

One of the veins of gold that ran through out his multiple talks was a visual way of looking at the writing process, which makes WAY more sense to me! Putting the writing process in terms of the process of creating an illustration really helped me to start to wrap my brain around it.

First he started with discovering the Theme of the story, what’s it about, what’s the concept? He starts out to discover the theme by asking and answering questions like: Why, and What is the Point of this story? He answered these questions, with one specific question. Now, the process of answering that seminal question can potentially and will eventually be the story.

I think that you can do the same kind of inquiry for your stories by asking “What is ________? Substituting the core kernal of an idea for the blank, ie: family, harmony, or community, etc. I think you get the idea, and once you’ve got that, your story is on it’s way!

He went on to break it down like this:

  • The Story Summary is a brief description, like a thumbnail
  • The Story Outline is more like a rough sketch
  • The Story First Draft is like a value study. (note: I added the value study part as the next logical step in the analogy, but Tony did talk about first drafts.)

Knowing Where You’re Going

Another gem that Tony pointed out, and which I’ve also heard from James Gurney, which is that “You Need A Map.” I don’t know how it would be for folks who are purely writers, but for illustrators this means an actual map. Think back to the start of some of your favorite adventures stories and you just might find a map, for example, The Hobbit.

In Conclusion:

There were just so many great people in LA presenters and attendees alike. At every turn it seemed that each interaction I had was amazingly human, and that everybody was down to earth and open to talk. Again, I had that feeling that I’d found my peeps. If you’d like a complete list of who was there, you can check out the SCBWI site. Some of the presenters who were there and that made a positive impression on me were, Arthur Levine, Cecelia Young, Laura Godwin, Jon Klassen, and Dan Santat. To mention all the attendees who were all gracious and kind would take up volumes! My sincerest gratitude goes out to everybody who helped to make this such a seminal moment. I wish you all success.

As an additional resource for all of you who’ve made it this far in the post. In applying this process in my own work, I referred to Adyashanti’s method of Spiritual Inquiry. I don’t suppose that this will be for everyone, but check it out and see.

As always, I love to hear what you think in the comments: Where you there? What did you think? Are you thinking about going next year? Post up in the comments section below, and I look forward to chatting with you.

Cheers

3 Responses to 5 Storytelling Tips from the Great and Powerful DiTerlizzi

  1. The conference sounds like it was amazing, and I wish I could have been there! I’m glad you got so much out of it, and of course got the chance to see Tony again. The talk he gave at the bookshop was awesome in of itself, but obviously more aimed at the kids. I like the points that you highlight from his talk at SCBWI. All very helpful for people like us who are only just dipping our toes into the waters of storytelling. Great stuff!

  2. Thanks Jenny, It was sure a lot of fun going to the bookstore together. I’m glad you got something out of these notes, it is seems so obvious once he said it, but looking at story telling like creating an illustration… well, it’s just makes all kinds of sense!

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