Filling the Writer’s Toolbox: Tools for First Lines, Voice, Character, World Building, and Revision 2019

About This Event


Under the guidance of Emma Dryden you’ll prepare your manuscript for submission and gain a deep understanding of the fundamentals of writing for children.


In this workshop, renowned editor and consultant Emma D. Dryden will guide participants through proven techniques for editing and revising their manuscripts.

What You’ll Learn

Techniques for editing and revising.

Help preparing your manuscript to catch the heart of agents and publishers.

Engaging craft sessions (see detail on Agenda tab)

One-to-one feedback from guests.

Small-group workshopping with Emma and guests.

This course is best for writers who:

Are intermediate to advanced and have a picture book or middle grade or young adult novel with a completed draft.

Have taken their work through at least one or two rounds of revision.

Are looking for tools or strategies to get their book closer to submission.

Would like to receive multiple points of feedback on a project (from Emma, special guests and teaching assistant.)

Have taken one of our introductory courses such as PB&J, The Journey, Novel Beginnings or The Ins and Outs of a Picture Book and now have a completed draft.


Day 1

Afternoon: arrival and check in

Evening: Appetizers & Dinner

After dinner: Introductions and Welcome

Day 2

Morning Session, Emma Dryden:

First Lines, Last Lines, and the Promise Fulfilled

So often agents and editors stop reading a manuscript after the first page. Why? What’s missing? Emma will start this session with a presentation about the importance of first lines and first pages, focusing on what the first page promises to the main character and to the reader. Emma will then comment on two or three first and last typewritten and appropriately formatted pages of participants’ manuscripts. This session will provide the sort of thoughts and comments agents and editors have when they consider submissions. Participants will be encouraged to read aloud. Includes handouts, worksheets, writing exercises, and Q&A.

Roundtable Critique Meet-up, Ysenia, Lisa

Writing & Revision Time

Appetizers & Dinner

Day 3

Morning Session, Emma Dryden:

Hearing Voices, Hearing Characters

Voice is elusive and very hard to define, yet it’s as important as character in terms of compelling agents and editors to read beyond the initial query. Emma will start this session with a discussion of all aspects of voice —narrative voice, character voice, and the overall voice of our stories. This will be followed by an exploration of the Character Interview Questionnaire and related Character Worksheets, which participants will use to go deeper into their characters’ voices, hearts, and minds. Participants will be encouraged to read aloud. Includes handouts, worksheets, writing exercises, and Q&A.

Second Roundtable Peer Critique Session, Yesenia, Lisa, Alison

First & Last Pages Critiques, Emma and Pat

Appetizers & Dinner

After dinner: Presentation on visual storytelling & Q/A with Pat Cummings

Day 4

Morning Session, Emma Dryden:

Internal and external world-building

All stories—be they fantasy or reality, picture book or novel–need to exist within a consistent context. This session explores the physical, psychological, and emotional contexts for our stories and our characters. Emma will start this session with a presentation about world-building, followed by participants trying out some methods for building believable settings and believable inner worlds. Participants will be encouraged to read aloud. Includes handouts, worksheets, writing exercises, and Q&A.

Presentation on editor/agent process and Q&A with Kevin Lewis.

First & Last Pages Critiques, Emma and Kevin

Day 5

Morning Session, Emma Dryden:

Renew, Refresh, and Revise!

Hang onto your hats! In this session, Emma will be guiding participants through a wide and varied array of revision techniques and tools. Some will be familiar; some will be new. Some will be fun; some will be uncomfortable. All will be valuable in forcing participants to see their work anew, which is a key to successful revision. Participants will be encouraged to read aloud. Includes handouts, worksheets, writing exercises, and Q&A.

Choice of two sessions:

Leaving Room for your illustrator (for picture book writers), Lisawriters

The Power of Play: Novel Ideas Off the Page, Alison and Yesenia

Writing & Revision time

Day 6

Morning Wrap-Up Session, Emma Dryden

Wrap-Up Session with Emma

Final Q&A with Emma, Lisa, Yesenia, Alison


Interview with Emma D. Dryden: Revision, Getting Unstuck, and Knowing When Work is Ready to Submit

Ask an Editor: Emma D. Dryden

Interview with Emma D. Dryden

The Writer: Ranking Rejection


“Emma Dryden had a well-planned workshop that allowed for a LOT of input from faculty and time for participants to work on revisions. The pacing was thoughtful and productive.”

“Lisa Cinelli was amazing. She kept me from scrapping a MS and helped me see the revision it needed to be. Emma’s information, her ability to create a safe space for exposing our MSS to critique, and her generosity in helping us through this painful deep revision process was wonderful, as well. Yesenia was warm and generous and funny.”

“Everyone was AMAZING! Knowledgeable, encouraging, supportive, friendly, engaging…I was blown away by how much I learned from everyone. (And by how warm and sincere everyone was).”

“I got everything I needed to take my writing to the next level: revision tools, inspiration, affirmation…When someone used the word “magic” to describe Highlights Foundation Workshops, I couldn’t agree more.”

“There was so much, I don’t know where to begin. Gained new perspective on my book. Am excited about the new direction it is taking me.”

“I learned a lot about the revision process. I learned about sensitivity readers and got the names of YA and craft books that will help me with my manuscript. I learned more about how the publishing industry works, but for me, the most important learning was very personal. The workshop gave me the space and context to learn/affirm why I’m writing in the first place, and why I’m writing the story I am. It was a beautiful opportunity to learn to trust my process.”

Cancellation Policy

100% deposit refund for cancellation 30+ days before event.
50% deposit refund for cancellation 15-29 days before event.
0% deposit refund for cancellation 0-14 days before event.
The remaining balance (total price minus deposit) is due upon arrival.
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