It’s workshop season again, and to celebrate that, I’m resurrecting this blog. The first workshop on the horizon is for teenagers at Waterford Central Library. I was asked to do it as part of a programme of children’s events to celebrate Culture Night on 16 September. I had approached the library about doing workshops for younger children and adults, and those will come to pass, but first, they’ve asked me to help teenagers put a story together in 90 minutes.
The prospect makes me gulp slightly. Trying to reach teenagers through their hormonal fog can be a bit of a challenge. The workshop is on a Friday, straight after school, when they’re probably a bit tired and fed up with being told what to do by adults all week long. Luckily, I have access to a teenager, and to get an insight into what might hold their attention, I put him on the spot and asked him straight out. He suggested that teenagers like near-future stories where the world is almost the same, but not quite.
I had been considering the possibility of devising a near-future dystopian story, so it was good to have my instincts confirmed. I also know that superhero stories are always a winner, especially with younger people. So I am devising a story set in a near-future world which is recognisable, but something vital is missing that needs to be retrieved. The teenagers will create an unlikely superhero tasked with retrieving that missing ingredient, invent the world where the action happens and decide how their hero will succeed in their mission.
After warm-ups to get rid of the post-school cobwebs, it will be time to get down to business, with activities to come up with the character, setting and plot for the story.
What If: I sense that teenagers are more driven by plot than character when they read, so we’ll start with the plot. Many great stories start with the question “what if?” I will give the teenagers three what-if scenarios, related to the upcoming story, and they will come up with three things they would do in each circumstance. For example: what if you were transported to another time?
Character Sketch: I will give the teenagers a picture of a “geeky” superhero and they will write a profile of the character they see in the picture. They will fill in the profile under various headings, such as name, age and family background. The most important heading is “Secret Power,” in which the teenagers will identify the superhero power that will help the character succeed in their task.
Report from the Future: Characters need a world to inhabit, and the teenagers will imagine they have been transported into the future world where their story will be set. They send back a report about this world, describing what they see and experience. I will guide them towards describing a world where everything looks nearly the same, but there is something missing, something that is needed to make the world a better place.
Story Spine: When the teenagers have done the activities, they will use the information they have gathered to fill in a story spine. A story spine provides a structure for a story. It consists of a series of sentences with blank spaces. The writer fills in those spaces to decide what will be included in the story. You could say it’s the bones of a story. If time allows, the participants will add flesh to those bones and write a full-length story.
By the end of the workshop, the teenagers will have created their very own story. And if I play my cards right and grab their interest, I will be rewarded by their humour, their inventiveness and their imagination.
Do you facilitate creative writing workshops for teenagers, or write books for teenagers? What do you do to hold their attention?