Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Loading the Cannons: Guest Authors at Teen Writing Groups

This post was first published on February 19, 2015. 

This is a post written by Heather Dickerson, Teen Services Librarian for the Lewis & Clark Library in Helena, Montana. In her series for the LAIP, “Loading the Cannons,” Heather tackles the question “what to do with young adults in a creative writing workshop?” Enjoy! ~ Laura

by Heather Dickerson

I love any opportunity to bring authors to Lewis & Clark Library, especially when they’re open to spending some time with our teen writers. This post explains a visit from Elissa Sussman, author of Stray, and how our teens applied her presentation to their own writing. The basic elements of examining an author’s work plus opportunities to create and collaborate are adaptable to most library situations. The program we did lasted two hours: one hour with Elissa and one hour to write.


Teens in our writing group love creating elaborate worlds with their own very specific rules and ways of being. To encourage and hone their world building skills, we hosted young adult author Elissa Sussman. She shared information about how she was inspired by fairy tales and developed a fantastical world through research and some essential world building questions.

After her talk, my teen writers were ready to write.

I asked twelve teens to brainstorm a possible world scenario. They came up a “third world country where magic is normal and teleportation and alternate realities exist.”


Yeah. THAT! Awesome!

After the initial brainstorm – which took about three minutes – I gave each teen a World Building Question. We had a few duplicates, which was fine. Writers were tasked with answering six essential questions that would inform their world:

  • How is this world different from ours?
  • How is it the same?
  • How do people interact? What connects them? What separates them?
  • What are the social customs? What do people in this world think about love? Family? Friendship?
  • What does the world look like? Geography? Architecture?
  • Who are the insiders? Who are the outsiders?

I left the room for a few minutes and when I came back…WOW! Teens were chatting up a storm! They created a world on the African continent where different classes of people were born belonging to a certain element (air, water, fire, and earth). Individuals had evil doppelgangers; the world employed tattoos; teens determined a chart that to describe how people were born into factions….the details were incredible!

The coolest part of this exercise was the collaborative creative environment. An individual would offer a suggestion and it received genuine consideration by the rest of the group. Teens left with a list of emails so work could continue!

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