Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Fine Young Writers

One purpose of this blog is to share not only my experiences as a writer, but the experiences of other writers I encounter— and to encourage you to be a writer as well. So I'd like to begin by sharing a recent experience I had with a group of gifted young writers who attended one of my workshops.

The workshop was hosted by the Franklin Public Library in my hometown of Franklin, TN (you can find the library here ), at the request of their excellent YA librarian, Phillip McAndrew. As with many writers, there's always the fear that you will enter the library and find yourself on the set of a new movie titled What If They Gave a Workshop and Nobody Came? It's irrational (well, not completely), but it's there.

Fortunately, on this day my fears were completely unfounded. Within minutes of my arrival, the room filled up with fifteen young writers (and one brave adult). The paper and pencils were passed around, I chatted about myself, writing, and other odd bits, and then we got down to business.

I call my workshop "Hidden Treasures," because it's all about discovering that almost anything can hide a hidden treasure— the hidden treasure that we call "story." We began by pulling an object from my Hidden Treasures bag— in this case, a bracelet— and asking questions about that object. What is it? What is its purpose? Is it what it is, or what it represents? (For example, is a toy soldier a toy soldier, or does it represent a real soldier?) Who has the object? How did they get it? Why do they have it? Do they want it?
The questions continue, going into when, where, how and why, but this should give you the idea. The purpose is to discover the story hidden in the object. (And the great thing is, the story can change for the same object, just by changing the answers.)

After brainstorming together, each young writer got the chance to pull their own object out of the bag— and a mixed bag of objects it was— and craft their own story starters by asking questions about their finds.

(As an aside, it was an absolute delight to see fifteen heads bowed down over a table, with the only sound in the room being the scratching of pencils on paper. For a moment, I thought I was giving a standardized test; only it was a lot more fun, and nobody could get a wrong answer.)

Fifteen minutes later we shared a few of our story ideas— and what terrific story ideas there were! An abstract chess piece became a huge pillar in a city built by dragons; an earring became the symbol of a corrupt royal house in a vast empire; a bracelet became the key to a secret code, kept by a girl who must spy on her own husband. I can't share all the stories with you (after all, they're not my stories to tell!), but I think and hope that someday these young writers will do so.

Why not try the experiment yourself? Pick an object, or even an idea, and start asking questions. You may stumble upon a treasure trove you never knew you had.

--- Howard Shirley

P.S. If you'd like for me to bring the Hidden Treasures workshop to your library, school or writing group, just contact me through my web site: www.howardshirleywriter.com

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