Dreaming On Paper–A Writing Workshop for Teens

Short Story and Personal Narrative

A Writing Workshop for Teens

Hosted by: Shelley Burbank

Shelley Burbank is a writer from Limerick, Maine. She has been published in True Love, Katherine Press Review, and the Waterboro Reporter, and she also writes about life and localism on her blog, Outside the Box. Shelley has a degree in Secondary English Education and has worked as a volunteer at Line Elementary School and the Limerick Public Library. She is passionate about writing, reading, and literature in general, and she loves to share what she’s learned with others.

Welcome to Dreaming On Paper! Please come to the first class with a notebook (no need to be fancy) and a pen that feels really comfortable. I’m using a blue BIC Atlantis 1.2 right now. It writes smoothly and rolls fast. I like that. You might like something else.

The notebook should be one that will be used exclusively for your creative writing–not for math homework, for example. Math has its place, but that place is not your creative writing journal. Your journal is where your dreams will first begin to take shape in words and sentences, images and details. Why muck that up with algebra? (Unless, of course, you are dreaming about algebra or your character is a math wiz or you find equations to be perfect symbols for the poem clamoring to break out of your brain. In which case, go ahead, include the mathematics as long as it has something to do with your creative writing ideas. It’s YOUR journal, after all. You get to decide what goes in it.)

So, what is this workshop all about? The goal of this class is introduce you to some tools you can use to generate ideas for new and exciting writing projects, focusing mainly on short stories and personal narratives, and to give you a chance to practice with those tools. Read on . . .

Week One: Pen, Paper, & Persistence

* Daily Timed Writing Exercises
* Ignoring Your Internal Editor
* Starting a Topics List
* Practice–Make a list of your passions, your interests, what excites you or scares you or makes you feel warm and fuzzy inside. This is the beginning of your Topics List.
* Practice–Take one topic from the list and write for ten minutes without stopping. Go!
* Share–Look over your writing practice. Is there something that came out onto the page that surprised you? Is there something there that you really like and might want to explore further? If you are comfortable, consider sharing with the group. If you don’t want to share what you wrote, consider sharing some of the topics you generated. (There will be no comments or questions from the group this time, just listening closely.)
* Homework– Write for at least ten minutes without stopping EVERY DAY. Make a habit of jotting down topic ideas for later and add them to your topic list in back of your journal. Bring at least a paragraph but no more than three paragraphs from your journal to share in the next workshop.

Week Two: What A Character!

* Quick Review–How did timed writing go for you this week? Did you come up with some new topics for your list?
* Guidelines for commenting/questions about other writers’ work.
* Share–Reading & Response of pieces brought to workshop.
* Characters are people, too!
* Why start with Character instead of Plot?
* Character Worksheets
* Practice–Begin filling out a character worksheet; think about how this character might be combined with one of your journal exercises into a personal narrative or story. Or fill out a worksheet about one of the people you wrote about in your journal–mom, dad, sister, frenemy, etc.
* Homework–Write for at least ten minutes without stopping EVERY DAY. Observe any characters that wander onto the page or into your head.
* Homework–Write a biography about a character. What do you know about this character? What does he/she fear, love, despise? What does this character want? What is preventing this character from getting what he/she wants? Is there another character working in opposition to your main character? What does this second character want, need, think, feel? Bring 1-3 paragraphs to share in workshop.

Week Three: Delightful Details

* Quick Review: Characters
* Share–Reading & Response
* Using vivid details (in setting, character, and action) to pump up your writing, create interest, and put the reader smack dab into the dream your are creating on paper.
* Read aloud and discuss: Natalie Goldberg’s essay about details and an example from a story or narrative.
* Practice–Chose a journal entry and rewrite all or part of it, adding vivid details. Imagine yourself in that dream-world, whether it was a real event or something you made up. Use all your senses. What do you see, hear, taste, smell, touch?
* Homework–Write for at least ten minutes without stopping EVERY DAY.
* Homework–Rewrite one of your journal entries or use one of the prompts below. Observe the details you can see, feel, taste, smell in your head and put them down on paper. Don’t worry about the internal editor. Let the details flow through you and onto the paper in any way they like, even if you think it doesn’t make sense. What kind of light is coming in through your window? What does the cafeteria smell like in your character’s school? What do you hear when you close your eyes? Describe in as much detail as possible the first birthday party you can remember. Where do you live? Describe it as if you are talking to an alien from another planet. Bring 1-3 paragraphs to share in workshop.

(Don’t forget to add to your topics list when something interesting strikes you!)

Week Four: Undercover Plot and the Dreaded “G” Word

* Quick Review: Details
* Share: Reading & Response
* Character Motivation & The Hero’s Journey (in personal narrative, i.e. autobiography or memoir, the author could be the Hero. In biography, the subject could be the hero. Sometimes a place or entire community is the hero.)
* Practice: Hero’s Journey Worksheets
* Wait! Don’t forget your Grammar! Introduction to THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE and other resources for good writing mechanics.
* Homework–Write for at least ten minutes EVERY DAY.
* Homework–using your character sheets and hero’s journey sheets, write a short story or personal narrative. If you need ideas for a story, look through your journal. There is plenty of material there now, thanks to all your daily timed writing exercises! As you write, try to include detail to make the story vivid. Let your mind explore the dream. Let the dream flow through you and onto the paper. Bring it to workshop to share. If it is really long, pick just a scene or two.

Week Five: Read All About It

* Read & Response.
* Multiple Drafts–Set stories aside for a few days before reading through them again. Note any places that need more (or even possibly less!) detail. Note any places that are confusing. Look at your grammar and punctuation. Rewrite. Repeat as necessary.
* List of places for young authors to publish
* Fill out questionnaire for likes, dislikes, suggestions, etc. about this class

That’s it! Hopefully this workshop has given you some tools you can use in the future to generate new and exciting writing projects. Remember, there are two things a person can do if they want to be a better writer: Read a lot and write a lot.

4 responses to “Dreaming On Paper–A Writing Workshop for Teens

  1. Susan (Bullock) Michaud

    I can’t find this listed to see when it’s being offered. Or is this a self-study course?

  2. This would be a fantastic online course. You might consider offering this to a community college and develop a course that can be used as a high school and/or college elective. With dual enrollment you might get several students. Just an idea. Regardless, this is wonderful. I am going to encourage Taylor and Ellie to give it try, independently.

    • Cool! Maybe they would be willing to email some of their journal entries or writing assignments to share? That would be fun! They can email me anytime with questions, and I highly recommend Writing Down the Bones for inspiration.

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