Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Stephen Barr- agent Writers House

I love the SCBWI. Yesterday I had the chance to attend a writing workshop with Writers House agent Stephen Barr. The topic of the day was using settings to enhance your writing.

First a little about Stephen, he is a relatively new agent, only four years at Writers House. The  good news is that he is building his list.
 When asked what he wants, he told us that at this point he loves everything.  Previously he has focused on picture books and author/illustrators, but now he is looking to grow with chapter books and novels. He'll take a look at any genre, but warns, if you write thrillers, he is looking for the normal guy turned hero, not super CIA agents. And if you write fantasy, he says you'd better have a unique hook, he sees too many similar ideas and puts a lot of pressure on fantasy/paranormal  to stand out.

He accepts queries via email, with attachments.

Now, on to the workshop. He started by telling us that setting is the very reason he is a literary agent. On the day he went to Writers House to interview, he received a job offer from Simon and Schuester. He went to the interview out of commitment, but found himself swept away by the character and environment of the Writers House building. The setting was amazing, hinting at the past and sharing glimpses of the future. He ended up accepting an internship there, instead of a paying job at Simon and Schuester.

Advice he gives about  using settings in your writing include:

*Settings are props,  antagonists. Treat them like they are alive.
*Plot is the atmosphere, setting is an actor.
*Resist the urge to make the setting what it really is, recast its role. He used Neil Gaiman's, The Graveyard Book, as an example. Here, the graveyard, normally a scary place, is actually the setting of the main characters home.
*Stephen also told us that if you  nail a setting it should resonate throughout the rest of the book. For an example of this he used John Green's book, Paper Towns, saying it is the best execution of making a setting totally come alive.
*He mentions, if all you do is paint the setting and then it is gone, it wasn't worth it.

For more info about Stephen and Writers House, check out their website


  1. Great summary. Thanks, Dorine. I loved the workshop.

  2. great if I can just apply it.

  3. I just stumbled upon this post -- great to learn a bit more about Stephen and hear his thoughts about setting. Thank you!

  4. Glad you came across my blog. Thanks, Shari.